Volume 81, Number 4 | June 23 - 29, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photos by Muneeza Iqbal

People played pop-up pianos on Tuesday in Tompkins Square Park, above, and Little Red Square, below.

Gershwin to Coldplay, these pianos are for playing

By Muneeza Iqbal

Jose Garcia stumbled upon something unusual while skateboarding down his regular route in Tompkins Square Park. A piano.

Encrusted in glittering, fake jewels and beads, it sat there, inviting anyone with any level of talent to play.

This is the second year for Sing for Hope’s “Pop-Up Pianos.” An installation of 88 pianos all over New York City, it’s the inspiration of British artist Luke Jerram, who has placed public pianos all over the globe.

These pianos were donated to the nonprofit organization, then sent to various students and artists to be decorated. This year famous designers such as Kate Spade, Isaac Mizrahi and Diane von Furstenburg are among those who have each dressed up a piano.

The instruments will be in various parks and public spaces until July 2. People can either book a time slot online, or just sit and play to their heart’s desire when they stumble upon one, if it’s free.

“My teacher told us about it but I didn’t believe her,” said Garcia, who recently enrolled at the Lower Manhattan Arts Academy, a high school on Grand St.

He flipped through the music book attached by a chain to the piano, but was disappointed not to find any songs familiar to him, so instead he played a few notes from memory.

“Sing for Hope is a nonprofit organization that mobilizes professional artists in volunteer service programs that benefit schools, hospitals and communities,” said Sing for Hope co-founder Monica Yunus.

According to Yunus, “Pop-Up Pianos” is a way of promoting the group’s aim of making art available to the public. They hope to get enough financial support from their donation campaigns to make this project an annual one.

“It is a wonderful thing,” said Tompkins Square Park regular Elliot Rivera about the project. “Life without music is like coffee without sugar.”

Rivera saw many children over the weekend playing the park’s piano, and was amazed at how talented some of them were.

“It made my day to hear them play,” he said.

Each piano has its own name and a story behind it. Artist Nicolina painted the piano in Tompkins Square Park and named it the “Piano of Magical Merriment.” She says on the “Pop Up Pianos” Web site that she “painted the cosmic sound.”

Another one, “Little Red Pop-Up Piano,” sits in Little Red Square in the West Village, at Bleecker St. and Sixth Ave., outside the Little Red School House. During Tuesday’s Make Music New York festival, West Point’s band, Quintette 7, used this piano for their performance. The pianist, Yalin Chi, fondly recalled how a tour bus stopped by the square and a few teenagers ran out from it to the piano and performed some beautiful pieces.

Visitors are encouraged to post videos and photos online of people playing the various pianos, and there are a number of contests, such as “Best Music Video,” for which winners receive an exclusive ticket to a concert.

Sing for Hope will donate these one-of-a-kind pianos to hospitals and schools after the installation.

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