By Mike McConnell, The Daily Tribune
Royal Oak’s downtown may soon find some new keys to entertainment with the installation of a half-dozen vibrantly painted public pianos.
Jason Gittinger, chairman of the Royal Oak Commission for the Arts, has already tried the idea out. Last year, he put a piano outside in front of his Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music on Washington Avenue and left it there.
“Many times a day someone stops by and plays the piano,” he said. “There are actually people who practice on it every day. Other times it will be couple walking a dog or someone just passing by.”
The results range from classical music to the playful keyboard meandering of a 3-year-old girl in the neighborhood.
“I love that you put a piano out there and some people will start showing off their chops in public,” he said. “Some are going to be great and some are going to be knuckleheads … but music is something that connects all kinds of people. When people play they usually smile.”
Gittinger is working with a friend from ProfessionalMovers.com to pick up donated pianos and store them where artists can paint them.
Music is a visceral experience and Gittinger is hoping to make it a more communal one as well, he said.
One thing he noticed after he put a whimsically painted piano in front of his school last year was that it brought out the better angels of people’s nature.
No one vandalized the piano or made an attempt to steal it.
One snowy night a few young men were fooling around and one of them was pushed against a window at Gittinger’s school. The window cracked and Gittinger discovered what happened when he looked at a surveillance video the next morning.
“After it happened they went over and started playing the piano before they ran off,” he said. “I thought it was great.”
The city commission for the arts is working to get their 2017 Public Piano Project underway for the summer and is asking the City Commission on Monday to approve the project.
James Krizan, assistant to the city manager, said the project is based on the pilot program Gittinger did last year in front of his school and is recommending city officials approve the project.
“It’s been really popular,” Krizan said. “There’s been a lot of feedback and even City Commission Sharlan Douglass went and played on the piano.”
The arts commission still has to make arrangements with business owners on where six pianos could be placed in areas that are covered or have an awning.
Pianos would be put out for the summer and the arts commission would take care of moving them away afterward. Finding old pianos is never a problem because so many people have them and usually have to pay someone to haul them away.
A drummer whose parents were both professional musicians, Gittinger said he was able to find six pianos for the projects online within a few hours.
“But what we still need are some local artists and some paint,” he said.
Anyone willing to donate their skills or paint for the project can email Gittinger at firstname.lastname@example.org