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Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
currawong #1743104 08/30/11 06:47 AM
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Originally Posted by currawong
The last one I saw had the sign "Please do not play the piano". I'm assuming it meant "please do not play this piano", rather than a universal prohibition! smile


good one!

I may peek to see what kind it is but since I am no V.L., no I would not sit down and play it!


"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything."
Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
Dara #1743278 08/30/11 01:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Dara
[quote=Nikolas]Are you just being silly,
Just being silly...

In a more honest reply to the thread's main question:

I have resisted playing a public piano without invitation every single time. It's not about being rude, it's about being unprepared physically, emotionally and mentally! In concerts I don't have much of a problem, or live gigs, but if I'm not ready... I'm not ready.

I do feed my own need for performances though in various ways, so I don't need more 'attention' to be honest.

Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1743279 08/30/11 01:25 PM
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Not if it was a place I've never been to before and didn't have permission from the owner/manager. It would be like driving someone's car without permission.

I do have a confession though - my orchestra room had a harpischord and we weren't supposed to play it (the piano was fair game). Sometimes when the teacher wasn't around I would play some Bach on it. blush

Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1743321 08/30/11 03:06 PM
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A six foot Boesendorfer grand piano sits in a large atrium at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. No one is assigned to play it, and no one is prohibited.

And would you believe it? People line up to play it every day. They look forward to it, and practice at home for weeks before coming to the clinic.

It's a "public piano."

I have heard “Autumn Leaves,” complete with descending chromatics to subtly suggest the falling of leaves, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” with vocals ala Bob Dylan, and a fair amount of Scott Joplin. I, myself, have contributed with “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue,” Schubert “G major impromptu," and other classical selections.

Click here to see an elderly couple have a go at the Boesendorfer.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI-l0tK8Ok0.

It's a great experience to hear people sit down and play whatever they can play. The Mayo Clinic has created a wonderful tradition, where everybody’s music is validated and applauded. It’s the proper attitude towards this "public" piano.

Less than a block from my home is another "public" piano--an old upright, painted blue and decorated by a local artist, and reasonably well in tune. It sits on a street corner, waiting for someone to come along and play it, and people do. Some are just walking by, see it, and sit down and play "chopsticks." Some have dinner at a nearby restaurant and top it off with some improvised jazz. The other day, my postman sat down and played a two part Bach invention.

It seems an organization in St. Paul named “Pianos on Parade” has gathered twenty old uprights, had local artists paint and decorate them, and left them on various intersections for people to play over the summer. Someone nearby, usually a merchant, is asked to take on the responsibility of covering them with a tarp at night and when it rains.

I love the idea of the "public piano."

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"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10

Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
stores #1743379 08/30/11 05:10 PM
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Originally Posted by stores
Originally Posted by Miles Martin
Unless you're Valentina Lisitsa, it's very rude to randomly start playing in public...


So every other pianist should not ever play in public randomly? Why her? Is she the only person you feel knows how to play? Hopefully not, since...well I'll leave your delusion untarnished...


I saw this coming once I read the first bit . . .

On the OP's question, I'm surprised so many people would play whatever piano they come across. It's not yours! Surely you'd ask someone first . . .

Last edited by hopinmad; 08/30/11 05:12 PM.

Patience's the best teacher, and time the best critic. - F.F.Chopin
Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
tomasino #1743383 08/30/11 05:16 PM
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Originally Posted by tomasino
A six foot Boesendorfer grand piano sits in a large atrium at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. No one is assigned to play it, and no one is prohibited.



I've played it several times.



"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

♪ ≠ $

Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
tomasino #1743386 08/30/11 05:17 PM
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Originally Posted by tomasino

It seems an organization in St. Paul named “Pianos on Parade” has gathered twenty old uprights, had local artists paint and decorate them, and left them on various intersections for people to play over the summer. Someone nearby, usually a merchant, is asked to take on the responsibility of covering them with a tarp at night and when it rains.

I love the idea of the "public piano."


We live in St. Paul and had a great time this summer visiting the pianos from Pianos on Parade. I have a fun video on youtube of my 10 year old playing various pieces on about a dozen of the pianos around town (I'll PM it to anyone interested - the pianos are fun!).

I hope they do it again next summer!

Our family loves public pianos and the 10 year old is always happy to play with permission.


Amateur musician, piano and violin parent
Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
stores #1743388 08/30/11 05:20 PM
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Originally Posted by stores
Originally Posted by Miles Martin
Unless you're Valentina Lisitsa, it's very rude to randomly start playing in public...


So every other pianist should not ever play in public randomly? Why her? Is she the only person you feel knows how to play? Hopefully not, since...well I'll leave your delusion untarnished...

An agressive but fair response, IMO.

Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
cardguy #1743416 08/30/11 06:02 PM
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Originally Posted by cardguy
Originally Posted by stores
Originally Posted by Miles Martin
Unless you're Valentina Lisitsa, it's very rude to randomly start playing in public...


So every other pianist should not ever play in public randomly? Why her? Is she the only person you feel knows how to play? Hopefully not, since...well I'll leave your delusion untarnished...


I'm thinking the poster you're responding to is speaking in general terms, that is, unless you're quite good it's rude.....It's not about V.L.

That bit of defense out of the way, I don't think it really matters who you are. I understand that many people are curious about how a piano might sound, or would like to sneak in a little practice while on vacation or whatever, but it makes me pretty uncomfortable.



There are two sides of this. It may be rude to play if you are not good, but on the other hand if you are good, many listeners may think you are just being cocky.

Perhaps the solution is to not play a difficult piece.

Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1743591 08/31/11 12:45 AM
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I have encountered this challenge many times.
My rule of thumb is: pianos are made to be played. If they are in the open public, it is easier for the owner to place a "please do not play" sign on the piano than it is for them to ask someone to stop, so they will use the sign if they really do not want people to touch it. Obviously, if the piano is locked, has a rope barrier around it, or has a giant cloth over it to protect it, that is a "do not touch" indication. Besides, these machines have wheels, so the owner can simply push it against the wall.
Polite discretion is important; I know a few pieces that make perfect "elevator music" which people barely notice, and there are times to just leave the instrument alone. If a piano is in someone else's house, I don't touch it.

I started teaching myself piano in college, and every dorm building had a Yamaha upright in the main activity room. It was put there to be played, just like the pool table and TV, so that may have affected my judgement.

My playing abilities make this very easy. Being self-taught for 3 years (I started proper lessons 2 months ago), I've memorized only a few songs (mostly just parts of songs), and they are far above my actual skill level. I can be impressive for nearly 5 minutes. If anyone asks me how long I have played, I just respond "about two months", and they are certain to be impressed.

Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
Maxtor #1743660 08/31/11 05:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Maxtor


My playing abilities make this very easy. Being self-taught for 3 years (I started proper lessons 2 months ago), I've memorized only a few songs (mostly just parts of songs), and they are far above my actual skill level. I can be impressive for nearly 5 minutes. If anyone asks me how long I have played, I just respond "about two months", and they are certain to be impressed.


Which certainly casts new light on the Messiaen weirdness...



Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1743722 08/31/11 08:39 AM
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Once I was invited to speak at a luncheon, and after greeting the first person, I said "excuse me, I need to check out that piano over there in the corner" before continuing to "work the room". I didn't play it, I just needed to see what kind it was.

Another time I attended a children's recital. There was a cookies and coffee luncheon afterwards, and I discreetly and softly played the piano. A woman heard me play and asked what the music was and I said it was some stuff I wrote. She said "You need to make a CD. I'm a graphic artist and I'll do the cover art for free." So in the next 6 months I recorded the CD, she did the artwork and it turned out very good.

So I guess it depends on the circumstances. I'm very curious about every piano I see, and will always at least check them out a little, but I won't play it if that would be rude or inappropriate.


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Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1743965 08/31/11 04:09 PM
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That's so cool, Larry! I'd never do it, but it sounds like it turned out serendipitously for you smile


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Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1744632 09/01/11 03:57 PM
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I love to perform, so whenever I see a piano, I must suppress my desire to play it. One of my pet peeves is a piano with a "Do not touch" sign. Of course, if it's an antique in a museum, it's understandable...doesn't stop me from wanting to play it though!

A couple days ago, I went with my friend to the London Heritage Farm in Steveston, for tea. It's a very old home (ca. 1890) that has been turned into a museum, and not many people come for tea there. In the tea room, there was an old piano about the same age as the house. I asked the waitress if anybody ever plays it. She said that it's usually at Christmas time, but that I was welcome to play it.
So I went ahead and played whatever I could recall from memory: Chopin waltzes, a Mozart sonata, etc.. The few people who were there really loved it. smile

Then there's the Piano House, a store on Main Street. The manager knows me well enough that he always invites me to play the usually roped off Bosendorfer. I dream of one day purchasing that piano...

So I'd normally ask permission before playing any piano, unless common sense tells me otherwise.

Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1744644 09/01/11 04:10 PM
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It depends on what YOU want to do, and what's allowed. Aspara, I have the same feeling when I see a piano! My fingers just itch to run over the keys! (Especially if its a grand)

Last edited by TonalHarmony; 09/01/11 04:12 PM.
Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1745063 09/02/11 11:21 AM
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If I see one, I'll always go over to have a closer look..

Then I'll decide whether I can chance my luck by playing it without causing a riot (raised eyebrows - and/or applause - is OK by me... grin).

This was in fact one of the ways I managed to keep my technique (relatively) intact during the many, many years when I didn't have a piano to practice on, i.e. between leaving university and last year, when I finally bought one.

Sometimes, I've been surprised by how accomodating other people are: I've practised for hours on an ancient (but well-looked-after) grand in a stately home belonging to the late Queen Mother when I was at a weekend conference there; similarly on the upright in the bar of the ferry between Seward, AK and Bellingham, WA on my way back from an expedition; several hospitals (in the corridors and residences); bars in holiday resorts; many stately homes, museums, youth hostels, restaurants, conference centres, hotel lobbys, gyms, churches, even pianos prepped for concerts (before & after the concert) and therefore not strictly public.

After all, someone can only tell you to push off, and as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I reduce the likelihood of the former by playing only melodically (and harmonically) lovely music, so, no Carter, Boulez or Stockhausen.... grin, and carefully gauge how wide a dynamic range I can safely use.



"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1745231 09/02/11 04:55 PM
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The polite side of me cringes when I look back at myself afterwards, but I can't seem to keep away if I see a piano. I always need to feel it, compare it to mine, marvel at how gorgeous it is, I could easily sit and play for hours wherever I was, if I knew enough pieces by heart to do that without feeling like a nuisance for repeating things.
However, saying that, I always ask permission if there is someone around to ask, and try not to overstay my welcome.
I suppose I should be thankful for this compulsion... it was thanks to this I decided to become a musician instead of having a medical career. Whilst on work experience in a hospital, all I wanted to do was leave the room and sit on the piano in the corridor. I realised I couldn't stand being so desperate to play all day and that I'd just have to make a career of it. =P
Plus, you can sometimes get the chance to play some lush pianos you'd never even dream of touching otherwise thanks to their expense.

Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
Inky #1746742 09/05/11 08:19 AM
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What troubles me the most is that usually when you start playing a piece (especially in a "come-play-something-for-us!"-setting where you know most of the people, not so much in public), after 10 seconds somebody either says "now play something romantic, please!" or even just interrupts you to try twinkle twinkle, little star. In the best case, they start talking about something that they came to think about while you were playing. It's hard to show a complete piece and share some musical ideas, which would be a good way to use an opportunity like that, but only few people who respect art enough can really listen with interest in that social setting.

Other than that, much I agree with has already been said. I too have that urge to play a newly discovered piano and although there's a case for being polite and not showing off, I think it's more valuable to share music with other people, and public pianos are usually there to be played. But I would definitely choose pieces most people can appreciate, and not Schoenberg or even a long and not-so-accessible Beethoven Sonata movement, which doesn't mean saloon pieces only. People can only get so much from something new as it connects with what they know already.

By the way: I had that "play something romantic!" moment a while ago and found the expectations of the audience (all non-musicians) interesting. I didn't really have a romantic era or nocturne-like piece prepared, so I played Kapustin's Sarabande (a dreamy slow jazz-infused piece). Even though I played it a bit faster than usual, the tempo was quite slow, but they perceived it as fast and unromantic anyways because there were mainly 8th notes. Then I played Bach's Aria from the Goldberg Variations with a little bit of pedal and all of a sudden it was romantic. And needless to say, I didn't have to play the second part. So what do we learn? a) Bach can be butchered into any style or emotion and still sound convincing even with a lackluster performance and b) there is a huge discrepancy between what most non-musicians expect and hear from someone who can play that fabled piano-thingy and what a musician would like to convey.

Sorry for the long ramble wink any more public performance stories?

Last edited by Sorcerer88; 09/05/11 08:21 AM.
Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1747251 09/06/11 01:20 AM
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I walk up to the unoccupied public piano and place a small hand-written sign on the keys reading:

"No Heart and Soul, No Chopsticks, No Knuckle Song,
and under any circumstances, absolutely
No Fur Elise!"

That should keep the riffraff out. Mmmph!

Re: What do you do when you see an unoccupied piano in public?
MathTeacher #1747253 09/06/11 01:21 AM
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I play it..

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