It’s a mid-September morning in 2011. My partner and I agree on a highly exceptional day off, in the middle of a work week. We both have our fair share of international business traveling and we convince each other we’ve earned this day off. The evening before, we read on the Internet that in the Tilburg region in the Netherlands, no less than 101 pianos have been put on the streets, as part of a festival. Although I do not realize it at that moment, reading that article will change my life. The vast majority of our private travel itineraries since then will be – at least partially – determined by the phenomenon street-/public piano.
My love for the instrument is almost as old as I am. As a toddler, I got photographed occasionally while trying to reach out well over my head to those magical black and white keys. I can’t play yet at that moment, but regular visitors to our house feed me fascination for that piano, tone by tone, without knowing it. As long as I can remember, I want to touch/hear every piano that I encounter, play it if I’m allowed to.
Back to that day in 2011. I cannot wait to start the trip to Tilburg. 101 public pianos on a few square miles. During my trip dozens of questions arise. Whose is this blissful idea? Are people coming out of the woodwork for this? How did they get to those pianos? Would several people dare to play in public? A piano in open air, sometimes in rain, how is that possible? The map I printed with the piano locations is burning a hole in my pocket and the excitement increases as we come closer.
That particular Thursday, September 15, 2011 I am a child again for one day, a kid in a candy store to be precise. That day, I play dozens of pianos to my heart’s content, on streets and squares, at bus stations, in parks, sometimes in open air and yes, sometimes in light drizzle. My first street duet I play with a man who unsuspectingly plays a slow-blues. Without asking him, I move in on the right of his piano stool and play a 3 octave solo, while he takes care of the baseline and the chords. For the first time we make eye contact, we both smile, play some more and then bring the song to an end together. A quick handshake, another smile, we never heard each other’s name.
That particular Thursday I lost my heart to street pianos. All my questions get answered 1 by 1. The most important answer comes later that night, when I find out that this type of festival is happening more often, all over the world. The boring business traveler I once was – hotel in, hotel out – mutates that day into an eager and curious piano hunter. On to new countries, duets, on to new groups of casual by-standers, on to new musical encounters!
Stay safe, enjoy playing!