Art Alliance: pianos for all

Art Alliance set up 16 pianos around Austin for public use.

At the Pfluger Bridge Garden piano sits a stereotypical-looking Texas man: cowboy hat, button-down shirt and black cowboy boots. But his music suggests Dennis Gilmour is far from typical.

Gilmour’s fingers struck the black and white keys as he serenaded runners and bikers with his rendition of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” and the classic “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra. All of it came on a whim.

“I live here in Austin, and I just [wandered by from] Whole Foods,” Gilmour said in a thick Texas accent. “I saw the piano and thought, ‘what the heck?'”

Gilmour said this is his first time participating in the “Play Me, I’m Yours” project.

“Play Me, I’m Yours” is project comprised of a collection of 16 pianos placed around outdoor locations in Austin by the Austin Art Alliance. Some locations include the patio of the Long Center, Frost Bank Tower, and the First Street pedestrian bridge. All of the pianos may be played freely by the general public.

Similar projects have popped up around the world in big cities like New York City and Sydney, Australia.

The pianos will be around until May 1, and a complete listing of locations is available on the Austin Art Alliance website.

The pianos are meant to be enjoyed and decorated by any member of the public. The response to the pianos is overwhelmingly evident in the decorations — if a stuffy, tightly wound piano teacher saw these special pianos, he or she might feel inclined to topple them over.

Each piano has morphed into the player’s masterpiece. On the First Street bridge piano, quotes and colorful dots of primary paint cover the upright piano.

As you read your sheet music, you can see that “This too shall pass” and John Lennon’s “It’s weird not to be weird” quotes are written on the piano, lingering behind the pages of your music, reminding you that you are not the only piano player in the world.

Many children passing by with their parents are instantly attracted to the colorful instruments. More often than not, they’ll stop, stare, smile or dance, all while their nearby parents wait patiently.

Like Gilmour, the individuals playing the pianos can be just as colorful as the instruments themselves.

On a warm Friday afternoon on the First Street bridge, a young man belted out his rendition of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” He received applause from passing runners and whistles and whoops from rowers in the rivers below.

A few days later, a man who looks as if he’s spent plenty of time in the sun was interviewed by a local radio station while he played his own original tunes.

Gilmour said that while he was waiting to play, he saw a buff, muscled man stop what he was doing and start playing.

“He’s a big guy with a child’s heart,” Gilmour said of the man.

The pianos themselves are just as unique as their decorations. They are worn and weather-beaten, and several are out of tune. Still, none of these factors deter players from making the pianos their own, if only for a few moments.

The keys of the pianos are drawn-on, musky and look ancient, but passersby play on. Gilmour did, and others became part of the fun.

As Gilmour played, children were attracted to the soft melodies and tried to play along with him. One little girl picked up some flowers and plopped herself down on a bench to enjoy the mild weather and whimsical music.