'Play Me, I’m Yours' hits L.A.

A little girl sat playing the piano at a train station in England. Her mother, sitting next to her, was crying. She had cleaned houses for four years just to be able to pay for her daughter’s piano lessons, and could not afford to buy a real piano for her. This was the first time she had heard her daughter play. After creating the ‘Play Me, I’m Yours,’ project, British artist Luke Jerram witnessed this scene. Established in 2008, in Birmingham, England, the project has installed more than 500 freestanding public pianos, in 22 cities all over the world.

According to Jerram, the pianos were established for anyone who wanted to play, serving as a way for the public to express themselves, share their creativity and reveal hidden musical talents.

The Los Angeles ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ project started on April 12, with a kick-off event that featured 30 different musicians around the city playing 'The Third Movement,' by Johann Sebastian Bach, in unison.

“The response, so far, has been great,” said Rachel Fine, executive director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Fine brought the project to Los Angeles this year, to honor music director and pianist Jeffrey Kahane’s 15 years with the orchestra.

According to Fine, Kahane is very community oriented, and LACO wanted to do a project that reflected his personality. “'Play Me, I’m Yours' was brought to Los Angeles with the intention of bringing arts into communities, and making classical music more accessible.”

The pianos - which were donated by various organizations and individuals - can be found at high-traffic spots, including the Santa Monica Pier, the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, and outside the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. They are accessible around the clock, and open to anyone who wants to play.

Jerram said he got the idea for the project while visiting his local laundromat in Bristol, England. He saw the same people there every weekend, but nobody talked to each other.

“I suddenly realized that within a city, there must be hundreds of these invisible communities, regularly spending time with one another in silence,” said Jerram. “Placing a piano into that space was my solution to this problem, acting as a catalyst for conversation and changing the dynamics of common places.”

Jerram went on to create a website for each city, with an extra link for each of the pianos, where people could share pictures and videos of them playing, as well as their own stories.

Some of the stories shared on the web included two journalists who met at one of the pianos in Sydney, fell in love, and got married. A young pianist was discovered while playing one of the pianos in London, and a New Yorker was so inspired by the project that he decided to travel across the United States with a piano on wheels.

“We really wanted to reflect the community of Los Angeles to the best of our ability, and we did that with the locations, the artists, and the community organizations represented,” said Fine.

Artists volunteered to paint the pianos, going through an application process, while others were actually approached by the orchestra. Several community-based organizations were placed in charge of the decorating.

On April 26, at the piano placed outside Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, ‘Love Letters to LA: Pianos Live’ was held - a concert featuring various artists, each of whom performed one classical song reflecting what Los Angeles meant to them.

“It’s a hard time for society, with unemployment, recession, the California state budget cuts, college tuitions, and all these other things,” said Fine. “I think people need this kind of project to feed their souls.”

Fore more information on the Los Angeles ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ project, visit www.streetpianosLA.com.