Pianos in City of London:

Pianos in London:


Written by the artist behind the project Luke Jerram ……..

Why is it that when I go to the laundrette I see the same people each week and yet nobody talks to one another? Why don’t I know the names of the people who live opposite my house? Play Me, I’m Yours was designed to act as a catalyst for strangers who regularly occupy the same space, to talk and connect with one another. Listening to the radio programme made by NPR about this project it seems to have worked.

Disrupting people’s negotiation of their city, the pianos are also aimed to provoke people into engaging, activating and claiming ownership of their urban landscape.

The pianos have also levered many hidden musicians from out of the woodwork. It has become apparent that there are hundreds of pianists out there who don’t have access to a piano to play. ‘Play Me I’m Yours’ provides access to musical instruments and provides musicians an opportunity to share their creativity by performing in public.

Like Facebook, the street pianos, together with this website, provide a interconnected resource, an empty blank canvas, for the public to  express themselves and share their creativity.

When the project was installed in Birmingham 2008, the city council financially supported the project, yet we were banned (for the usual health and safety reasons) from placing any piano on council owned ’public’ land. To enable the artwork to happen in London 2009, organisers have had to apply for individual music licences, for each piano location. The absurdity of licensing the pianos for ‘Play Me, I’m Yours was raised and discussed in the House of Lords on 16th June 2009. Read more about licences here.  

Over 3 weeks it was estimated that over 140,000 people across Birmingham played with or listened to music from the pianos. (A breakdown can be found at www.lukejerram.com ). Statistics like these add weight to the argument that regional art galleries are in many ways failing to attract large and diverse audiences and to really engage with specific communities they have an obligation to reach.

October 2008, ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ is presented in Brazil. http://www.streetpianos.com/saopaulo2008/

With the support of a special ‘Streetpianos’ charitable fund Jerram created, 13 pianos were distributed across the city of Sao Paulo. At £1,000 each (a years wage for some people) many people had never seen a real piano before, let alone had the opportunity to play one. After the Mostra SESC festival the pianos were donated to schools and community groups in the area. The project made national news there- watch TV report…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=010XGi6ZteI

January 2009- ‘Play Me, I’m yours’ was the highlight of the Sydney Festival. 30 pianos were distributed across Sydney and Paramatta with over 200,000 people playing the pianos and listening to their music. www.streetpianos.com.au

May 2009-  Scaling down the project, 10 pianos were placed in the small town of Bury St.Edmunds, UK produced by Bury St.Edmunds Art gallery  www.streetpianos.com

June 2009- 30 pianos across London.  Produced by City of London Festival and Sing London. www.streetpianos.co.uk

September 2009 - 20 pianos across Bristol.

“Where words fail, music speaks” Hans Christian Anderson

Artist information

Working internationally as an artist since 1997 Luke Jerram lives in Bristol, UK. His other art projects are described here www.lukejerram.com

Contact Luke Jerram about presenting ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ in your city.

A Letter from London

I have been living in London for 20 years and
wanted to say your ‘play me im yours’ project is the most successful
social space experiment I have seen in all that time.  The only
problem is that I get a sharp twinge of sadness whenever I walk past
one knowing it is not permanent.  Is there no way we can find a way
to keep half of these pianos available for play and maintained over
summer each year?  Is there a way local business could sponsor the
upkeep?  I’m sure there is a lot of red tape involved in keeping them
in public spaces, but its quite amazing how they transform the area
and indeed, introduce strangers to each other.  And spread the joy of
real and spontaneous music.
Many thanks

A letter from Brazil

Hi Luke

First off I would like to thank you for bringing your project “Play Me, I’m Yours” to my city, São Paulo. You have no idea of the positive impact it has been causing in our community. Everyday I catch the subway at Estacao da Luz, where one of your pianos is located. This is a very busy hectic place, where most of the people are coming from or going to work in a fast pace so typical of a megalopolis. It amazes me the power of the instrument, the magnetism that it generates among people. And I must say that 99% of the people who actually stop to check it out don’t have access to culture or are not used to have culture and beauty being brought to them.

I believe we have to take art out of its common venues and make it more public, more accessible. Besides bringing beauty and inspiration to people, your pianos ignite a reflexion on how we use the public space, how passive or active is our relationship with the space we share . I usually wait for a co worker right next to the piano, and as she is always late, I have the chance to observe people’s reactions. I’ve seen people walking by and coming back to listen to somebody play, I’ve seen people calling dear ones from their cell phones to share the music with them, I’ve seen an ice cream vendor crying after listening to a song, I’ve seen a couple dancing, I’ve seen 2 blind guys with the subway employee ( in charge of guiding them) sitting down and taking their time to appreciate the music, I’ve seen children in total ecstasy jumping around while an old man played a famous Vivaldi piece ( from a perfume ad here in Brazil).

This is the future. The democratization of art. The quality of the music is indifferent, the proposal of the installation is everything. Those beautiful pianos are self-esteem boosters for the everyday worker, who doesn’t have access to this kind of stuff not even on weekends.Pianos here are often are considered as “rich class” instruments, unlike the acoustic guitar or drums.
I can feel the respect they have for the instrument, I’ve seen people caressing it gently, admiring the keys, the shape, all its contours…

Thanks again! You brought slices of magic to us all!!!
Best Regards

About the project in Birmingham…
“We came to school and it was all broke, so we took all the things off and we’re taking ‘em into class and everyone’s decorating it,” says Basnick. “And then we started to paint all this and stuck everything on so it looks all nice.” - Pupil from a school who had a piano. – that broke

Jon from Austin, TX
I heard about this story on NPR today and looked this up, and I have to say - Luke, you are an inspiration. This is true art, in that it impacts people and engages their sense of creativity. This is alot better than plopping modern sculpture in parks all over town because it does inspire interaction. I loved hearing how the schoolchildren took to decorating the piano they came across. There is more than one way to express creativity with a piano, I guess (I’m an avid player). An ingenious idea and full credit to you, Luke, for an inspired thought brought to fruition. 

From kim Plygeaw from Thailand
I would love to do this in Thailand. If only I could find enough pianos. I think it’s the nicest unusual new story for a long time. It’s good to see people caring about wanting people to play… very often when a pianist passes a pinao shop he sees them calling him… but you don’t always feel so welcome to sit and play. I like the piano shop in the film ‘Betty Blue’ The little boy prodigy that came in to practice because his parents hadn’t the money for a piano. We know about the pianists there are, and who they are. But we will never know who the great pianists were that never got to touch a piano in there lives. I’m sure there are some here in Thailand like this. I would so like to do this here… can anyone help? 

From W. Salinger
Dear Festival Team,
This is one of the simplest and yet most wonderful things I have ever seen at the Sydney Festival. Every day I teach at Victoria Park Pool, and listening to the joy a simple piano brings to so many is a clear reminder of how powerful the arts are in shaping our lives, and how much poorer we are when denied access to them.

This morning a Japanese lady completed her swim, sat down and played a few simple tunes that transcended any language barriers she had.

A huge man appeared about an hour later, produced several books of sheet music and provided a recital worthy of any concert hall in the land; punctuated by laughing children, splashing in the toddlers pool and the sounds of aquatic life around any swimming pool in Australia at that moment. Only the privileged 100 or so patrons who were at the pool at the time could benefit, and perhaps this was the only performance this chap had given in years. It was very much appreciated by me an my students.

Yesterday my niece and nephew, Josh and Elyse came to visit me at the end of my teaching for the morning. The piano’s cry, ‘Play Me I’m Yours’ was irresistible. The intensity of the moment is captured here.
Enjoy, we have and will continue to do so!

NPR Transcript March 20th 2008.
The streets of Birmingham, England, are sounding a more joyful note these days. Residents awoke recently to find pianos spray-painted with the words ‘Play me I’m yours’ scattered across the city. The public invitation to tickle the ivories is the work of an art collective whose organizers say they want to create a sense of unity and wonder in a place where both are in short supply. Luke Jerram, the artist who conceptualized the project, previously surprised residents with an orchestra suspended in hot-air balloons over Birmingham. On this particular morning, street musician Gordan Thomas pounds on a battered, paint-spattered upright piano, just outside the city’s rag market. He is accompanied by people on guitar and homemade drum. As the trio plays, hijab-wearing women walking arm in arm and young mothers with babies bundled up against the cold slow to take in the spectacle. Men working the nearby stalls, and others clearly not working at all, loiter in groups and listen and smile. At any given moment, 15 such scenes play out across the city. Kevin Isaacs, of Birmingham’s Fierce art collective, commissioned the piano project. “We’ve had kids of 14, 15 years of age from all communities making their own types of music,” Isaacs says. “We’ve had people of 70, 80 years old playing old music-hall-type stuff - which is absolutely brilliant, that’s exactly what it’s about.” One of the pianos was installed at Frankey Community High School, and librarian Sue Baker says she is thrilled with the number of people who sit down and play. “It’s getting people talking who you wouldn’t normally talk to. And the people that you can’t imagine, play,” Baker says.Outside the Allens Croft Primary School, fifth graders Simran Sahota, Robert Corcoran, Dailan Korta and Bethany Basnick crowd around one of the pianos. Since its arrival, it has been painted a dazzling pink and gray, and all the black keys have been covered in sequins, pom-poms, buttons and even pencil shavings. “We came to school and it was all broke, so we took all the things off and we’re taking ‘em into class and everyone’s decorating it,” says Basnick. “And then we started to paint all this and stuck everything on so it looks all nice.” Corcoran notes that boys and girls have taken to the piano. “I think it’s fun. … In case we can’t play football or anything, we can come down here and play the piano,” he says. Back at the rag market, Jason Konciw strikes some keys and shakes his head at the sound of the piano, which has suffered from sitting outside during a cold and wet month. “Oh, it’s a shame. I don’t like to see pianos like this, neglected,” says Konciw, 37. Like so many others in Birmingham, he is unemployed. The city’s jobless rate is at least double the national average, and in some neighborhoods, one in three men has never had a job. “I’d love to work in a piano shop. … I’d do anything to work in a piano shop,” Konciw says. A few feet away, 72-year-old Katie Killen sits bundled up in a beach chair, surrounded by brightly colored roses and chrysanthemums at a flower stall where she’s worked for 47 years. She says the music “cheers the place up. …We need cheering up.”