Public pianos add to downtown Portland's summer rhythm

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PORTLAND — Sally DeLuca thought the city is “such an artsy town,” pianos for anyone to play in four downtown squares would be a perfect summertime addition.

DeLuca, Portland’s director of parks and recreation, had seen such projects in other cities. With the help of several organizations and local businesses, her dream has become a reality.

On Friday, June 29, DeLuca introduced four brightly painted upright pianos to Monument, Congress, Longfellow and Bramhall squares. On hand were guest musicians specially selected to play at each location.

Annabelle Brooks, a 13-year-old student at King Middle School, had the honor of kicking off the project when she played some of her favorite selections on the piano in Monument Square.

She’s been a member of the Maine Academy of Modern Music for the past two years, and also sings and plays the trumpet and guitar.

Brooks called the Pianos in the Squares project “really awesome” and said “it’s wonderful to give people a chance to explore and express themselves” in this way.

“I would definitely sit down and play,” she said of the opportunity for members of the public to provide a little background music to accompany the rhythm of the city.

Brooks played “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” during her half-hour stint at the piano painted by Bomb Diggity Arts.

DeLuca thanked Sherwin Young, owner of Starbird Music and Piano Gallery, for helping to provide and tune the pianos being used, which she said are all “nearing the end of their lifespan.”

In an interview, she said three of the pianos were donated by community members and the fourth “had been in our Community Center for many years.”

The pianos will be available for daytime use throughout the month of July, with local businesses or organizations taking responsibility for wheeling them in at night and keeping them out of the rain.

DeLuca said the Portland Symphony Orchestra and Portland Ovations had agreed to be the “business steward” of the piano in Monument Square.

The other business sponsors are One Six Green, Portland Flea For All, One Longfellow Square and Peloton Labs. Participating arts organizations include the Maine Access Immigrant Network, The Art Department and Still Life Studio, among others.

“This project adds to Portland’s artistic vibrancy,” DeLuca said in a press release. “Pianos in the Squares doesn’t know any boundaries. Someone might sit down and play chopsticks and someone else might wow passersby with Beethoven. The possibilities are endless.”

DeLuca said having the pianos painted was also key to the overall project.

“It does two things,” she said. “It gets community artists involved and it makes them more fun to look at.”

She said there will be no set schedule when the pianos will be available for playing and that was by design.

“The (participating) businesses have agreed to do this through the month of July, (but) the schedule will be at their convenience,” she said.

DeLuca said the Pianos in the Squares project helps the Parks and Recreation Department fulfill its mission, which is to “provide spaces/venues where the public can meet, interact, have fun and make new memories.”

Her hope is that “the community will enjoy (the pianos)” and that they’ll also “spread a little joy. We hope it brings a smile to the faces of both musicians and listeners.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Annabelle Brooks, a student at King Middle School, had the honor of kicking off Portland’s Pianos in the Squares project June 29. Four brightly painted pianos will be available for the public to play in four downtown squares through the month of July.