Public pianos return, prizes up for grabs

Pianos on the Street program at Terra Nova and Britannia Shipyards

When you see people previously divorced by culture and language being united by the common bond of music, it makes it all worthwhile.

So says Sean Pacey, founder of the Piano Teachers Federation, when asked why he transplants a plethora of upright pianos into outdoor, public spaces in the hearts of communities across the Lower Mainland.

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From now until the end of August, “Pianos on the Street,” as it’s called, sees two such musical instruments taking pride of place, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at two spots — Terra Nova Community Garden and Brittania Heritage Shipyard — for members of the public to play for free to their heart’s content.

It’s the second year Pacey has brought his pianos to Richmond, with local kids joining in the fun by painting the Terra Nova piano shortly after its arrival last week.

“When you see the demographics of the people who play our pianos and then see the connections that are being made by people passing by,” said Pacey, of the Vancouver-based federation.

“We also work with a lot of special interest groups and youth groups, and to have them experience the piano is amazing.

“People these days tend to stay within their cultural groups, but music cuts through that and pulls people together, it’s very powerful.

“I want to try to make our cities a more beautiful place; but the cost of living being what it is restricts so much of what we can do. This is an escape from that; especially in a public place where you don’t suspect to see a piano.”

Pacey has been plonking pianos into public spaces in Maple Ridge, Port Moody, Surrey, New Westminster, North Vancouver and Burnaby in some way, shape or form since 2009.

He admits, the idea of leaving a piano outside, unattended and unsecured for weeks on end isn’t ideal, but “it’s generally worked very well,” added Pacey, who credited the City of Richmond’s arts department for its help in bringing the project to fruition again.

“In Richmond, (theft or vandalism) is not much of a problem, and in other areas it’s just occasional.

“Some people come along and play at 10 p.m.; they just love to play, it’s incredible to see and hear.

“But I do pray for the weather. There are covers that go over them, but they can just be taken off by anyone who wants to play and that’s what makes it so great I guess.”

Pianos on the Street is also holding “public pianos upload video contest” with cash prizes for the most voted-for video of someone playing one of the pianos.

There’s also an Instagram photo contest with the best picture taken at one of the outdoor piano locations in the Lower Mainland receiving $500 and the runner up $250.

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