For a few years now, piano are to be seen in strange, public places. Some are part of an extended art work, some are spin-offs, some are rogue piano’s traveling the world. When I travelled across Europe in 2013, I found piano’s being played under bridges, in parks, in stations and libraries.
Lately, I have been travelling around the Netherlands a lot by train, giving business English lessons. Often I return at night to Amsterdam Central station. There, once I have checked my chip card out against the turnstiles, I can always hear piano music tinkling through the emptier than usual station halls.
This piano is tucked away in a corner in front of some ticket machines. At night, this instrument is never un-played. In fact it seems to have become some kind of social nexus. The people always gathered around it playing classical, pop, jazz, hip hop and the blues are mainly young. It is also always a massively multi-cultural group of mostly men.
There is often someone singing along, very often duets on the keyboard and choirs on the floor. But there is always an audience too. People standing… listening. You’d think with your favourite tracks on demand in your pocket on your phone you’d not be listening to some kid from somewhere banging the ivories in a drafty station hall. But listen they do. And stop, stand and stay for a while.
These kids can play. Spotting keys like trackers, I have heard live mashups of pop songs with classic librettos, Coldplay with hip hop, original and covered. In these moments, only the music really exists, our brains tying up our eyes with internal visions, our ears stilling our limbs with liquid, limbic pleasure. Daft smiles squidge across the spaces between people and while the notes skip across the air to knock the skins of our eardrums, people are transformed.
It’s not that Amsterdam is not a cultural place and that this is therefore remarkable. It is that it is. It’s not that no-one loves music, it’s that they do.
After a long day on my feet, phrasing and re-phrasing ideas and facts about language, grammar and communication when my own brain has throbbed into lame… it’s music in a form that gives me solace.
I never tried hard enough to play piano.