Ypsilanti, Mich.—Whether they are feeling inspired, sentimental or just plain curious, people are plinking on the ivories in Ypsilanti.
Eight upright pianos are parked on the sidewalk in front of businesses along Michigan Avenue and Cross Street in Ypsi’s highly foot-trafficked Depot Town and downtown neighborhoods.
Available through Oct. 9 for public playing, everyone is welcome to perform or listen – for free.
The pianos are outside and no audience is guaranteed, although one is likely to show up if someone starts playing.
As part of Pianos 'Round Town, the pianos occupy public space in front of Ypsilanti stores, galleries and restaurants.
The project is organized by Korin Hancherlian-Amos, a doubly-degreed performing pianist who also teaches lessons; funded by the Ypsilanti Convention and Visitors Bureau, which paid for the deliver and pick up of the pianos, and the Depot Town Association, which paid for city permits; and promoted by Nelson Amos Studio.
Hancherlian-Amos started the project in Ypsilanti three years ago after reading about Luke Jerram’s “Play Me, I’m Yours,” an art and music project first commissioned in Birmingham, UK, that placed pianos in public spaces to get people interacting more with each other and their communities.
After contacting Jerram, Hancherlian-Amos received his permission to do the project locally in the 19,435-person town of Ypsilanti, as long as she didn’t use the same name.
She contacted her friend and colleague Tim Hoy, owner of Steinway Piano Gallery of Detroit, and, despite disbelief from some folks that pianos would ever materialize, they did, and the project was underway by 2010.
Three years later, Pianos 'Round Town has become an annual favorite.
“It touches so many lives in so many different ways,” says Hancherlian-Amos. “I can’t begin to explain.”
She often plays the pianos while they’re on the sidewalk for their 19-day stint and is delighted by the interest it attracts from toddlers to seniors.
She has seen older people play pieces from their childhood and has witnessed the pianos spur people back into playing or taking lessons.
Kids inevitably bang on the pianos, elbows and toes not excluded, and no playing style is discouraged.
The pianos are lovingly worn; some have been brightly painted. Others are on the cusp of shabby-chic, with tired finishes and a fare share of scratches and dings.
But they all sound wonderful when a few random notes, or a well-executed Chopin, or even a drunken duet drifts down the street.
Merchants and restaurateurs that agree to have a piano in front of their business, also bear the responsibility to bring the piano inside at business close and cover it in inclement weather.
Kim Ion, owner of Kim’s Resale Shop on Cross St. in Depot Town says that she is one of many merchants on Cross St. that enjoy listening to the pianos being played, even if it’s just someone plunking on it who doesn’t know how to play.
“If it sparks an interest, it’s a good thing,” says Ion, who hears different people playing the piano six to eight times a day in front of Nelson Amos Studio, just down the block from her store.
The event generates a lot of Internet fodder, of course.
“People get excited, take pictures, post them. There is a lot of social media interaction, and I’ve seen a lot of YouTube videos,” says Christine Laughren, manager of marketing and communications at the Ypsilanti Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a unique event you can’t find in any other place."
Stop dreaming of playing your favorite Elton John number in Ypsi’s hipster neighborhoods. Join the action; find a map of the piano locations here.