“Play Me, I’m Yours” brings pianos to downtown San Jose

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by Pavitra Rengarajan

The melodic notes of Debussy’s Arabesque float through the air of downtown San Jose. Passers-by circle around the intricately-decorated center outside Martin Luther King Jr. library, watching in awe at the pianist’s flying fingers.

Twenty uniquely decorated, second-hand pianos are scattered on the streets around San Jose’s primary parks and plazas, free for anyone to play. Art on the piano ranges from black-and-white graffiti to colorful brush strokes. Inspired by British artist Luke Jerram, the pianos are meant to enliven the ambiance and invite the public to engage with their urban environment.

The biennial project, called “Play Me, I’m Yours,” has reached an audience of over one million people worldwide, with 300 pianos in 16 different cities being installed so far, including Birmingham, England, São Paolo, Brazil, Sydney, Australia, and New York City. Members of the journalism staff traveled to New York City last summer, where students were able to play on the pianos sponsored by the project.

“They’re out there to get people talking to one another and to claim ownership and activate the public space,” said the creator of the project, artist Luke Jerram. He previously brought incarnations of it to Birmingham, England; São Paolo, Brazil; and Sydney, Australia. “It’s a blank canvas for everyone’s creativity.”

Isaac Parlo, a fourth year double major in Musical Theater and Nutrition at San Jose State University (SJSU), thought the music added another dimension to the ambiance and atmosphere.

“I’ve been playing for twelve years, but nothing compares to this,” Parlo said. “In a practice room, I’m really only benefiting myself, but I don’t do this for myself; I do it for others.”

Even those without a musical background appreciated the music.

“It’s nice when I walk by people playing the piano, because it adds to the home-y setting,” SJSU senior Sue Uhrich said.

The music not only served as a as a topic of conversation but also provided a relaxing environment for those studying outside.

“Most of the people who play, even when they are just practicing, are really good,” SJSU graduate student Sagar Shrivastava said.

The project also allowed students to pursue passions they wouldn’t normally have time for.

“It’s really good music; it feels lively and relaxing all at once,” SJSU graduate student Balakrishnan Parandaman said. “It’s a nice break after studying for long hours.”

After the project finished on September 22, the pianos were donated to local schools and community groups.

“It is incredibly awesome […] that people are utilizing the piano,” SJSU senior Jenene Kastle said. “I wish they could be out all year, but I’m glad that we got to take full advantage of it while it lasted.”