Pianos pop up in downtown St. Albert

Organizers of a new street piano project are hoping it will help downtown St. Albert come alive with the sound of music.

The Keys for the City project was launched Thursday afternoon at St. Albert Place as three pianos — each decorated by a local artist — were placed at different locations throughout the downtown core, allowing budding musicians to tickle the ivories outdoors to their hearts’ content.

St. Albert

85-year-old Abel Urbino tickles the ivories on one of the three street pianos that are part of the Keys for the City project during its launch Thursday afternoon at St. Albert Place. (GLENN COOK, St. Albert Leader)

“Music was meant to be shared. And who knows — maybe someone who has never touched a piano before will have that chance,” said project co-ordinator Nancy Watt. “It’s not just about bringing music to the streets; it’s about positive interactions and people coming together in an upbeat way, an open way, people talking to each other, people inspiring each other.”

Street pianos like this have been installed in cities all over the world, from Paris and Munich to Omaha, Neb., and Cleveland.

The St. Albert pianos were repaired, tuned and donated by Don’s Piano Warehouse in Riel Business Park. Members of St. Albert Fire Services helped transport them around the city.

One piano, placed at La Crema Caffé on St. Thomas Street, was decorated by mixed media mosaic artist Helen Rogers using glass, marbles, mirrors and seeds, among other materials. Another that went to Arcadia Café and Bar on St. Anne Street was painted by Dixie Orriss, drawing inspiration from the works of Vincent Van Gogh.

The third and possibly most visually striking of the set will remain at St. Albert Place, decorated by artist Daniel Evans with scale models of various historic buildings from around St. Albert.

Evans was glad to see his work on display, even though it had taken its toll on him.

“I think I need to have a bit of sleep first,” he said. “But just to see it out in the community, to see people interacting with it and performing on it is absolutely fantastic. That’s exactly the kind of thing I was interested in.”

Evans spent a total of 127 hours and 43 minutes on the piano — “The 43 minutes was [Wednesday] night,” he said with a laugh — although some of that time was spent talking with people who came by to watch him work at St. Albert Centre.

“To have people coming up to me, picking out the buildings I was working on and telling me their own stories about these structures, what they meant to them and how they relate to them, was really wonderful,” he said.

Mayor Nolan Crouse was also at the launch event, saying that the street piano project fits in perfectly with St. Albert’s “Botanical Arts City” brand.

“It’s a great blend and a good combination, and it describes ore than anything else what botanical arts can be,” he said.

Keys for the City is part of StArts Fest, St. Albert’s annual arts festival that coincides with Alberta Culture Days. This year’s festival runs from Sept. 27 to 29, and will feature activities such as writer workshops, author talks, art displays and storytelling competitions, concerts and youth improv comedy shows.

The pianos will remain at their respective downtown locations until Sept. 30.

— GLENN COOK, St. Albert Leader