It’s been a bloody long way indeed to Perth Australia. This mid September Spring day is the second day of my visit and promising to be a beautiful one. The advantage of my jetlag is that I’m playing my 3rd piano at 8 in the morning, fresh and fruity. I would not call it a stage, but this piano stands on a small round elevation on one of the busiest walkways to Perth Central Station. I love locations like this, given the natural flux of a potential audience. I notice that my choice for cheerful songs works well for the passersby, both in front and behind me. The one individual who remains standing for a moment is in fact an invitation for the next, then the next …. There is a nice group of people around me. With some of them I speak briefly, others give a friendly nod or have a song request for me. In the middle of a uptempo song I notice that suddenly people start to walk away, as if commanded. I’ve been playing street piano’s long enough to know that this is not a normal course of events. Certainly those to whom I’ve spoken will usually at least say goodbye before setting-off. There is no fire anywhere, I look up and there is no change of weather coming. Then I look behind me and see what has changed the picture.
Some smart@ss sneakily put a hat up-side-down behind me on the ground. While trying to play on, I try to spot the hat’s owner. His looking away shamefully leaves little doubts on his intentions. I take the hat, put it down at my feet and try to pick up my set again. The people who walked away enjoyed an enthusiastic amateur playing, then this unannounced payment request ruined the atmosphere.
Can someone make money from a public piano?
Personally, I don’t want to. It’s not my instrument, I do not have a license as a street musician and besides that – though I respect everyone’s opinion – I think that a street pianist should never claim a public piano. You do your thing, you look around if someone else wants to play and after 1 or 2 songs you make room for the next player. Admitted, I’ll gratefully accept a hot cup of coffee on a winter morning, as a sign of gratitude from a bystander. It occasionally happens and that can make my day.
In Geneva I’ve been encountering the same young man for many years, who sits down behind one of 50 street pianos, puts his money basket on top the piano and plays on until he thinks he can earn more elsewhere. It is not for me to judge it, but I can’t say I like it. Oh, he’s a well-gifted player, so much is true…
At the same time, my friends from a street piano foundation sometimes get permission to play “their own” public piano for money. Their foundation does wonderful things for the community and I am sure that every coin thrown in their basket goes straight to the next public piano or else the maintenance of this one.
I recently read an article about a 12-year-old boy doing a tour of street pianos in 1 day, raising 60k USD for his sister suffering from diabetes. Respect for this hero and all my best to his sister!
Voila, two sides of the same coin, at the same time the weakness of my own principles…
Stay safe, enjoy playing!