Western Michigan University students should expect to see an interesting sight this week: a colorful upright piano, sitting on the concrete between Dalton Center and Miller Fountain.
This piano represents just one out of 14 pianos that the annual Gilmore Keyboard Festival, in partnership with the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, will be positioning throughout the city to coincide with Gilmore’s concert series, which runs from April 26 to May 12. The scattering of instruments, which has been dubbed the Play.Out.Loud street piano project, welcomes passerby, musical
training or not, to try their hand at the keyboard for all to hear.
The project, which has been designed to build awareness and anticipation for the Gilmore Festival, is the latest in what has become a global trend in recent years. Mary McCormack, the Director of Marketing and Publications for Gilmore, was responsible for bringing the idea to Kalamazoo.
“We first learned about projects like this a few years ago, when a British artist named Luke Jerram debuted a similar exhibit, titled, ‘Play Me, I’m Yours,’ in Birmingham, England back in 2008,” McCormack said. “Since then, it’s been adopted in cities all over the world, including in Grand Rapids two years ago, for their Art-Prize contest. Since it is a project that involves upright pianos and art, and since our festival focuses on keyboard music, we thought it was a natural fit for our festival, and we created our own version.”
In addition to the colorful pianos, McCormack and company have an exciting and eclectic line-up planned for this year’s Gilmore Festival, with over 70 concerts including headliner Diana Krall, Robert Glasper, who collaborated with Kanye West and Mos Def with his experimental jazz quartet, and Luis Resto, who earned a co-writing credit (and later, an Oscar) in 2002 for his work on Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
One of the 14 pianos will make a temporary home outside of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, whose members played a big role in making the project happen. Bill McElhone, the director for the museum, is pleased with the results of the partnership with Gilmore.
“The museum is a ‘Silver Sponsor’ for the Gilmore Keyboard Festival,” McElhone said. “We’ve been working pretty closely with them for the last few years, both as sponsor and as a venue for showing free movies (mostly documentaries about musicians). The pianos are a fun opportunity to promote the festival and to let people know that we are a venue, and have events going on in Stryker Theater.”
In addition to serving as promotional devices, McCormack hopes that the pianos can go on to serve another means entirely once this year’s festival has run its course. The Gilmore intends to donate all 14 instruments to non-profit organizations, and distribute the pianos as they see fit. McCormack encouraged students and community members alike to contact her (at firstname.lastname@example.org) with information on potential organizations.