By Alix Norman
There’s a piano on Ledra Street. The melody weaves through the crowds, drawing me towards the check point. And there, seated at a piano bearing the inscription ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ is the pianist, a teenager with tousled hair, dressed in scruffy jeans and Converse. As the piece ends, and he gives up his seat to a young couple, lively chatter erupts: “So beautiful!” I overhear; “A piano, on Ledra Street?” and from more than one, “Can I try next?”
The answer, of course, is yes. Anyone can try. And enjoy. For this is the global initiative entitled Play Me, I’m Yours, a community project begun eight years ago in England by musician Luke Jerram. The idea stays the same, no matter which metropolis the scheme inhabits: several street pianos in public places across the city provoking people into engaging, activating and claiming ownership of their urban landscape, acting as an interconnected resource for the public to express themselves.
It’s a legacy which has, so far, graced over 50 of the greatest cities in the world: from Santiago to Sydney, New York to Mexico City, Bath to Boston. And, as Nicosia joins the illustrious list, our capital’s citizens have the chance to participate in this wonderful community project brought to us by the Avantgarde Cultural Foundation, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Kyriakides Piano Gallery.
“The idea is to bring people closer to music,” says Stavros Kyriakides, owner of Kyriakides Piano Gallery, who has been (ahem) instrumental in the project. “I think this is the perfect example of Mohammed and the mountain: we’re taking music to the streets, and getting people motivated and interested. One of the biggest aspects of this project is that it gets people to socialise between themselves; two people at a bus stop for example, who would not normally talk will now socialise as they discuss the piano.”
It’s certainly the case on Ledra Street this morning: the teenage pianist now engaged in conversation with a young family who’ve stopped to hear him play. “I had lessons when I was little,” he tells me, “but these days I prefer to improvise my own stuff; I play in a band at school and I’m taking music for A Level so I thought, since I was down in town, I’d give it a go,” he says, adding that he’d heard about the project “through Facebook. Everyone was posting it.”
As a global initiative, social media plays a big part in bringing the project to the fore and, as part of this, the public are invited to upload clips of the pianos (and their playing) onto both the designated Nicosia website and the global website, which includes videos of pianists around the world enjoying their moment at the keys. “We’d be very glad to see photos and videos uploaded onto our website,” says Stavros, adding that this really is a project for “the public; it’s all about the people”.
In keeping with this idea of community spirit, the pianos themselves have all been decorated by renowned local artists – something that is happening for the first time in the annals of Play Me, I’m Yours. More usually, the instruments are painted by local community groups before being placed on the streets but, here in Cyprus, the project has taken a more unique turn.
It’s a scheme that’s clearly much appreciated; over in Acropolis Park, two middle-aged women are admiring the work of Christos Michlis. “We were out for a walk when we saw the piano,” says one. “It’s really strange to see it in the middle of a park, but such a good idea! And look how beautiful this one is, it’s like it’s been painted to fit in with its surroundings.”
This is, in fact, the case, Stavros tells me: “Many of the artists drew inspiration from their designated setting,” he adds, explaining that artists and locations were matched at random. And now the pianos have an added value,” he continues, “they’re a three-dimensional musical piece of art which can be greatly enjoyed after the project is over.”
On October 26, when the project ends, the pianos will be donated to children’s hospitals, rehabilitation centres and other establishments of a similar nature; places “where people and youngsters are facing tough times and could put a piano to good use. It’s a project that fits perfectly with our idea of culture,” says Stavros. “It’s for everyone: business people, mothers with children, young and old alike.”
Up at the Mall, competition for the instrument is stiff – a toddler and her father ceding their position at the keys to an eager group of youngsters. “I recognised the decoration immediately,” says the father; “it’s PIN [well-known cartoonist Petros Papapetrou] isn’t it?” As his daughter hides shyly behind his leg, he tells me how much they both enjoyed their experience: “We’re not a musical family but maybe, after this, she’ll want to try learning an instrument. And, as a father,” he notes, “I’m really pleased to see that the piano is going to help other people – especially kids – after the project is done.”
Everywhere I go (and I make it to six of the ten locations during the morning) people are gathering to enjoy the music and the project seems to be a huge success. With several special performances from local schools, as well as a number of impromptu ‘concerts’ by renowned Italian pianist Fabio Tedde – who has made it his ambition to travel the world, playing on as many of the Street Pianos as possible – it’s certainly going to be a harmonious ten days. So, whether you’re a talented pianist or an enthusiastic amateur, why not take to the streets this coming week and enjoy the benefits of Play Me, I’m Yours, a project that’s bringing music to everyone’s ears.
Play Me, I’mYours
Ten street pianos placed in public settings across Nicosia for everyone to play and enjoy. The project runs until October 26, and more details (including a map of the locations) can be found on www.streetpianos.com/nicosia2014 and www.streetpianos.com