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Mace & Crown | February 19, 2018

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Pianos Hit the Streets of Norfolk

Pianos Hit the Streets of Norfolk

Elizabeth Proffitt | Contributing Writer

Lively piano music has filled Norfolk streets the past couple weeks thanks to British artist, Luke Jerram’s public art project, “Play Me, I’m Yours.” The citywide public art project encourages locals and tourists alike to give into their creative side to break up the monotony and general fast paced tempo of city life.

The Chrysler Museum and The Virginia Arts Festival teamed up to present the 13 pianos, decorated by different community groups, placed across the city for people to enjoy. Jerram kicked off the exhibit by playing pianos at The Chrysler Museum’s Perry Glass Studio and at The Hilton Norfolk, The MAIN.

Jerram’s piano installations have become a viral sensation on YouTube because of how they bring people together and give ordinary people an outlet for extraordinary talent.

Embracing this spirit of togetherness, ODU student Jonathan Phillips, 21, took a moment to give a piano lesson to Kaylee Portillo, 11, at the piano stationed in the food court at MacArthur Mall.

Phillips, a music industry major, felt a kinship with Portillo because they are both self-taught and share a love for music. The two compared their musical journeys as Phillips quietly explained how to play different chords.

Photo by Elizabeth Proffitt

“I took lessons for awhile and then got really fed up with them and quit and just started playing by ear. If you really enjoy it then you’ll still be able to figure it out on your own if you practice,” Philips said.

Phillips was surprised by the pianos sudden appearance in Norfolk but is glad that the city has a chance to experience something so interesting.

“I actually drove past the piano at The Naro at midnight and found out what it was the next day. Once I figured it out I decided to find the rest of them just to see how they’re decorated and play some more,” Phillips said.

Photo by Elizabeth Proffitt

The spirit of togetherness also extended to service member, Bryan Rincón, who had a sweet encounter with a young singer at the piano in front of The Naro Theater on Colley Ave.

“I was playing a song and I saw this little girl and her aunt come up to watch, and when I finished I turned around to smile and see if she wanted to play and she asked me if she could sing along to something while I played. She was incredible! She even counted me in,” Rincón said.

“I think this whole concept is very cool because it brings out a lot of surprises. Like, people who you would never expect just walk in off the street and can play Mozart or Bach-like it’s no big deal and then walk away like nothing happened,” Rincón said.

While it was very common for people to take the classical route in their unconventional street piano concerts, some people took creative liberties to give piano music a contemporary spin.

Photo by Elizabeth Proffitt

College juniors Ellie Whitmore and Emma Burdette jokingly played a 2 Chainz song on the highly trafficked piano in front of The Naro Theater, showcasing that playing the piano doesn’t have to be so serious.

“I always took lessons growing up, but they don’t teach you how to play 2 Chainz, that’s for sure,” Burdette said. “That’s the cool thing about this kind of project though because it lets people play around with pianos and it can give people the opportunity to showcase their talent for public benefit.”

According to Christine Foust, the Director of Education and Community Engagement at The Virginia Arts Festival, when “Play Me, I’m Yours” concludes on June 4, some pianos will be left where they stand for the public to enjoy, while the remaining pianos will be donated to schools and nonprofits in the area.

To check out more videos and photos of the pianos follow the hashtag #StreetPianosofNorfolk on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.