The Hippo


Jan 19, 2020








A street piano from Littleton, New Hampshire. Courtesy photo.

Street piano party
Downtown Nashua to get two public pianos this spring

By Kelly Sennott

 This spring in Nashua, public art takes a new form: street pianos.

Specifically, two painted street pianos, tentatively to be located at the corner of Main and Pearl streets, and at Bicentennial Park near Darrell’s Music Hall and Studio Mark Emile. The project, presented by North Main Music and Great American Downtown, takes inspiration from British artist Luke Jerram’s Play Me, I’m Yours street piano project, which has installed 1,500 art pianos and seen 50 cities worldwide, from New York to London.
Project organizers hope that painting will begin by the end of March and that instruments make it to the street by the end of April. They’ll be available for public playing until October.
Sarah Roy, marketing and public relations manager for Nashua music school North Main Music, envisioned the Gate City with outdoor pianos while vacationing with her family in Littleton last July. It was a beautiful day, and the family had been eating lunch outside at Bailiwicks Fine Restaurant & Martini Bar when, across the street, three men began singing and playing at a painted piano. The men were in their late teens and early 20s, and the sounds echoed throughout the streets. 
“We were really moved by it,” Roy said. 
Roy called Mike McAdam, founder and director of North Main Music.
“I took pictures and sent them to Mike,” Roy said. “I said, ‘We can make this happen!’”
When she arrived back in Nashua, she contacted the Littleton Chamber of Commerce and found out that the town had started the program a few years back. Four pianos were set out along Main Street, and they were decorated in a variety of styles and colors. When it rained, local businesses came by and slipped a protector cover on top. When the pianos became out of tune — which happened more often due to outdoor elements — hired personnel came by to tune them up.
Mollie White, executive director of the Littleton Chamber of Commerce, said via phone that the project has added a new dimension to their main street — so much so that they’re hiring a student from North Country Charter Academy to paint a fifth to go out this spring. The town often incorporates the pianos in outdoor summer events.
“We’ll actually hire some piano players up and down main streets to put music in the air and ramp up the vibrancy of downtown,” White said.
Roy and McAdam also reached out to Paul Shea, executive director of Great American Downtown. He was interested too.
“This is something I’ve seen in some iteration online for a couple of years now,” Shea said via phone. “It’s an opportunity at a fairly low cost to provide a significant point of interest and opportunity for people to be creative and express themselves.”
There are some costs, though. Getting pianos won’t be an issue — the music school gets piano donations all the time, and since the project went public, at least three have been offered up. But the pianos do need to be secured to the ground, and they’ll need the three-sided rain covers, to be constructed by Sweeney Metal Fabricators. Stadium Graphics will create the cover art that gets stretched over the frame.
“Even with the raincovers, they’ll take a beating. Whether we completely start from scratch each year or touch up what’s there each year, we’re not sure yet,” Roy said. “The life of these pianos really isn’t that long. You’re lucky if you get two to three years.”
The biggest expense is hiring people to come by and tune, which organizers hope will happen every other week. Sponsors will get signage and logos on the rain covers and piano plaques, and come October, the instruments will go back inside. There’s been a lot of encouraging support via sponsorships — from Nautical Gin, The Peddler’s Daughter, Fortin Gage, Nashua Dog Park, Enterprise Bank, Lennan Company, Pompanoosuc Mills, Persian Rug Galleries and Elizabeth Grady — and many organizations have provided in-kind donations.
“Darrell’s Music Hall agreed to store it in the winter; they know how to take care of the pianos. We’re working with Positive Street Art to paint the pianos, and City Arts Nashua is providing small artist stipends to pay for the supplies,” Roy said. “I’ve seen pictures and read stories about people having impromptu jam sessions, and people coming down with a guitar to play along. I think it’s a really cool community-building activity that disrupts the way you normally interpret your sidewalk. You’re bringing music to everyone, and everyone is welcome to play it.”
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