Playing Outside on an Octopus Piano

Sing for Hope Pianos in New York’s Five Boroughs

Steven Turner performing his original song “Time’s Moment” on a Sing for Hope piano at the Dairy in Central Park, New York City, in June 2013.
On a day blanketed with mild, early-June sunshine, songwriter and pianist Steven Turner took advantage of the weather. He played his music outside, on a vivid sea-blue upright topped with a papier-mâché octopus, located under the Dairy’s gazebo in Central Park. This Caribbean creation is one of 88 pianos that Sing for Hope has placed in public parks and plazas throughout New York City’s five boroughs for the first half of June.

“ArtforAll,” declares Sing for Hope’s Twitter hashtag. Founded by Camille Zamora and Monica Yunus, opera singers who met at Juilliard, Sing for Hope is an artists’ peace corps serving under-resourced schools and healthcare facilities. Now for two weeks this summer, Sing for Hope also has installed 88 pianos, one for each piano key, not in elite music schools or plush concert halls, but rather outside, in the fresh air, available for anyone to play.

Prior to the installation, professional artists and community members transformed each piano. A fuschia upright with greenery and flowers twining below the keyboard in Faber Park; in Hudson River Park, a black grand with a mosaic snake twisting around the piano’s body; and from P.S. 34, an upright etched and splashed with white, reminiscent of the students’ composition books.

Under the Dairy’s gazebo in Central Park, rocks and shells were scattered across the top of the octopus upright, while the message “I am Opus the Octopus and I love music” bubbled underwater on the front board. This piano is the creation of artist and scuba diver Izabel Lam, whose dinnerware lines draw on aqueous images. She views the ocean as a kind of music in itself.

In early June, pianist and songwriter Steven Turner played the octopus piano and sang with happy abandon while birds chirped and curious school children trooped by. He wrapped up with “Time’s Moment,” one of the multitudes of songs he has composed during the last few decades. Propped up on the music stand was his notebook with lyrics but no notes. He composes by ear.

“I don’t play dead people’s music or even songs that I wrote a couple of weeks ago,” he declared after passersby applauded. For him, composing as well as playing is being, well, in Time’s Moment. The acoustics of his environment, the subtleties of each piano’s tuning, and even the time of day affect the key he chooses for each song. “That’s the beauty of this program,” he says of Sing for Hope Pianos, “how each piano is in a different place and has its own sound.”

In Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island, the Sing for Hope pianos will be available for playing through June 16, then donated to under-served schools, hospitals, and community organizations.

Copyright © 2018 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

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