Cycling home one night earlier this term, I heard the sound of a piano being played on the bridge of Silver Street. The next night when walking to meet a friend for dinner I heard an accomplished pianist serenading an enraptured companion, against the backdrop of the 17th century facade of Gibb’s Senate House, and the iconic silhouette of King’s Chapel.
As part of a traveling art installation, 15 pianos were dotted around the city of Cambridge for two weeks. The project is an international one by the artist Luke Jerram. ‘Street Pianos’ has seen painted pianos broadcasting art and music through cities across the world. The instruments were destined for the scrapheap before being painted by local artists and groups, for the purpose of public enjoyment and bringing communities together.
It coincided with the inevitable Cambridge ‘Week 5 Blues’. It is a phrase understood across the student body to summarise the ‘meh’ feeling that accompanies tiredness, overdue essays, endless reading lists, cold weather, coughs and runny noses, dark evenings, and the looming laundry crisis that hits most students at this point in term. If you’re extra lucky like me you may even find yourself ill for a few weeks in the lead up to this particular low point. Don’t get me wrong – I love it here, but there are always times when you feel a need to break free of the routine in ‘the bubble’. Seeing the pianos dotted around the city inspired me to stop off by one in the playground on my way home, and I tentatively tried to play a few bars of whatever I could remember from my days of piano lessons. I soon remembered why I’d never taken any grades, but although I am certainly not a natural musician I still thoroughly enjoyed having a go. Playing music took my mind off my problems, and was a refreshing change from the everyday. What’s more, by sitting down on a piano stool in the park I was able to revel in the warm sunshine and turning leaves that can make autumn in Britain so beautiful. It was the kind of day I will look upon nostalgically in six months time, yet is so often overlooked in the midst of a busy schedule.
I wasn’t the only one enjoying this project. As I left, a family arrived and the children were soon playing away happily. The artwork appeals to all ages, as does the opportunity to relive former musical talents. Each one is individually decorated, yet the motto remains the same; ‘play me, I’m yours’. And the people of Cambridge have loved doing just that. Some truly talented amateur pianists have taken to the streets, providing genuine enjoyment for those who hear them, whilst others just play around on the piano keys.
The collaboration between art and music that has touched so many unsuspecting individuals. It may be, that what makes the pianos so special, is how ordinary music can be, but when taking you by surprise and heard when going about our day to day lives, it exemplifies how often its the little things in life put a smile on your face.