Pianos on Parade brings the joy of music to downtown Minneapolis
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If you’re lucky, you might hear William Crawford making music on Nicollet Mall.
“I always play these downtown pianos,” declares Crawford, who lives in downtown Minneapolis. “It helps me get through life every day. I just have a lot of things going on, that it helps clear my mind, whenever I play.”
Clearing the mind with fingers to keyboard, note by note.
The people who joined in include Matt Bazzano, an attorney from Eagan who might be a maestro in the making — or not.
“I love Bruce Springsteen, and there’s a song, ‘Thunder Road,’ that I’ve been listening to since I was a little kid. I’m not good,” he laughs. “But I think most people can play a piano if you know, stick with it, practice a bit.”
The Minneapolis Downtown Council calls it Pianos on Parade: 24 brightly painted uprights set up around city streets and parks during June.
“There are so many people who are really gifted in playing piano,” said Mark Remme, the council’s director of communications and research. “You’ll see people walk up and down the street, and they’ll just stop and they’ll play, and then they share music with everyone around.”
With help from PNC Bank, the nonprofit Keys for Kids refurbishes the pianos. Then volunteers, including children at the YWCA Downtown, give them a fresh coat of paint and some colorful designs.
Then there’s Va’riyah Osby, from Robbinsdale. She may be the youngest one hitting the keyboards along Nicollet Mall.
“This is your favorite thing to do, to get down here and play piano?” we asked.
Va’riyah gave us a vigorous nod and a smile.
“How old are you again?” we asked. “Four!” she declared, holding up four fingers.
“And do you like playing piano?”
“What’s fun about it?”
“Like this,” Va’riyah responded, before pounding the keys.
Her mom, Jamekia, says she brings the 4-year-old to Nicollet Mall a couple of times a week. She’s thinking about getting Va’riyah into piano classes now.
“This is like her favorite pastime,” Osby says. “I didn’t even know they put them out. I like it. She gets into it herself. I enjoy myself watching her. It’s fun.”
For the players young and old, it’s practice, practice, practice.
“I have kids, and they play piano, and I have to play because that keeps them playing,” Bazzano explains. “They’re better than I am now. I’ve got to be able to help them with a note. That’s my inspiration.”
All this tinkling of the keys has a limited engagement, though.
Remme says the summer heat and humidity make the pianos usable for only about 30 days, and Keys for Kids will pick up all the pianos at the end of June.
Those that are still in good condition will be repurposed for other events, Remme says.
“We put the pianos out from June 1 through June 30,“ he notes. “They’re available to play every day, just 24 pianos that are spread around downtown. It’s a great way for us to be a part of the community of downtown Minneapolis, and for people to share the gift of music for the course of June.”
“When it’s finally nice outside, I love having a piano to just walk over and play for five minutes and take a break,” Bazzano adds. “Coming out of COVID, like having people being able to do stuff like that is smart, I think. I like it.”
So sometime this month, you’ll perhaps hear some random notes downtown. A bit of music in the air and food for the soul.
“Having these pianos out, so anybody can walk over and start playing, it’s a beautiful thing,” Crawford says. “Because music’s a beautiful thing.”