You can’t miss them. With their vibrant colours, painted abstract shapes and flowering inspiration, Steven Wolfe said it’s probably harder not to try and tickle the ivories a bit.
“It’s easy to get caught up with our busy days, so it’s nice to take a couple minutes, slow down and have fun. And people gravitated to that idea,” said the second-year Music Education student who rolled his love of music to the downtown of his hometown of Kenora, Ont., with the introduction of The Piano Project. “They may not know how to play very well, but it lightens the mood, and it’s a great opportunity for people to have a good time through music.”
Wolfe, who owns Wolfe Sound and Music in the small northwestern Ontario tourist community, had seen similar projects in larger cities where pianos would seem a bit out of place on a busy street corner. He wondered why not something similar in his own community?
“I’ve always been very community driven. This was an opportunity to get involved by supporting the music and the arts,” he said. “While at Western earlier this year I started saying to myself, ‘What is stopping me from bringing this to Kenora?’ And there wasn’t anything.”
Well, no pianos could be a minor hurdle. First thing Wolfe did was hit Facebook and other social media sites in search of free pianos. “Many people, when they want to get rid of them from their house, they often say they are free for the taking – if you move them. I found two close by – so it was perfect.”
Wolfe looked to his high school, St. Thomas Aquinas, to see if the students in the arts program were willing to bring a little life back to the weathered black and whites. They didn’t hesitate, taking the worn pianos and giving them a second chance for folks to enjoy.
“Once it’s a piece of art, people have more respect for them as opposed to a rough-looking piano,” said Wolfe, who also had supplies donated by a local business (McMunn and Yates) to construct a shelter to protect the pianos from the elements.
A lot of work, and time, had gone into the project. But how would it ‘play’ with the community once the pianos took up residence in the downtown? They have adorned the streets of Kenora for about three weeks now and it has been music to Wolfe’s ears.
“Everyone has loved it so far and there are constantly people playing it. It’s unreal. I find myself simply taking a walk by and there’s always someone playing,” he said, adding he has even played a few tunes himself, including a duet with a young tourist. “It’s an invitation to have a place to play, the freedom and lack of judgement atmosphere. It’s very open and it’s all about giving it your best and having fun.”
Wolfe is also encouraging those who give the pianos a go, to share their experience and story by posting pictures using the Twitter hashtag #thepianoprojectkenora and tagging @wolfesoundmusic.
He said the pianos will remain in place until Labour Day Weekend when, because of the rain and humidity, they will be recycled. But not to worry, the project is not ending.
“I’ve already had close to a dozen folks call me offering pianos and the school is in again to do the art work. I’m totally set for next year,” Wolfe said. “Pretty much every time I go by one of the pianos there is someone playing. It just fantastic to see everyone from young kids to folks in their 80s playing.
“Every time I see someone playing its makes me happy. It brings a smile to your face.”