Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Sing For Hope Pianos, Part 6

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Piano 29: Shore Road Park

  • Saturday, June 13th, after teaching all day
  • Really beautiful location with a grand piano
  • I arrived to find someone playing pop music quite passionately. This person turned out to be a piano hog, unfortunately.
  • Another guy showed up on a bike and clearly wanted a turn, so I let him go first. He played a cover of Let It Go as his second piece and a little girl nearby started dancing so happily!
  • I met Jessica, a volunteer photographer for Sing For Hope; Glen, a rock pianist who was quite friendly; and a mysterious elderly woman who looked possibly Chinese but was not speaking Mandarin (or English). I don’t think she was speaking Cantonese either. But she tried to talk to me several times and I could only smile and nod. She did manage to express that she enjoyed my playing.
  • I was able to see a beautiful sunset by the water.


Piano 30: Montefiore Park

  • Sunday, June 14th, again after teaching all day
  • The event lasts only two weeks, and I knew that there was a lot of rain in the forecast for the coming week (the last week). I had already performed a lot during the first week and I wanted to make sure that I visited all the pianos, so I decided to try to limit my amount of time at each piano. I knew that the coming week would be a battle between me and the weather.
  • This piano had previously been closed when I visited it the first time, so I was very happy to find it open.
  • This was a very quick visit, but three people talked to me after I performed one or two pieces and they were very appreciative and enthusiastic about my playing.
  • One of the keys on this piano didn’t work, but it didn’t affect my concentration.


Piano 31: Marcus Garvey Park

  • This was another piano that had previously been closed.
  • I again had a very receptive audience here. I even received a “Bravo! Bravissimo!”
  • It really warms my heart to know that so many people are willing to be friendly and warm. It makes me realize how easy it can be to meet people as long as you have even one small topic of conversation – in this case, the pianos! In other words, the pianos really do bring people together.

I got to Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx at almost 8:30 PM. Sadly this one was closed. I decided to try to return to the piano in the morning.

Monday, June 15th: I returned to Joyce Kilmer Park and found that the piano was STILL closed. Probably it was because thunderstorms were in the forecast. It didn’t matter that it was actually bright and sunny when I arrived… I knew that the Piano Buddies in charge of the pianos didn’t always have the luxury of checking on the pianos several times throughout the day.

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Piano 32: Roosevelt Island

  • I was happy to find a grand piano, but disappointed to find it heavily damaged.
  • As you can see from the picture, at least six or seven of the keys on the piano no longer worked, presumably because of rain damage.
  • When a certain number of keys don’t work, there reaches a point where the message of a piece simply cannot be communicated. Unfortunately I felt like I couldn’t legitimately perform a piece this time around.


Piano 33: Jackson Heights Post Office

  • Pretty quiet piano, but this one is thankfully not damaged
  • The person who I asked to take my picture also asked me to take a picture of them with the piano. Of course, I was happy to do so.
  • Two girls – probably in middle school – showed up almost immediately and were so excited over the piano. I told them to take care of the piano and to please cover it with the tarp if it started to rain. They nodded at me very sincerely. I was glad they were taking the responsibility so seriously.


Piano 34: Kaufman Studios Entrance

  • Felt a few drops of rain on the way there, but somehow it wasn’t raining when I actually arrived
  • The tarp was on the piano at first, but the guard was nice enough to let me play and even take a few pictures for me.
  • Someone on the street stopped to listen, but didn’t approach me to talk afterwards. I wondered if the bad weather made it more unlikely that people would talk to each other.
  • I made sure to cover the piano when I left, as it would surely begin to rain soon.

I unfortunately had to call it a day after finding only three pianos. Still, it was quite lucky that any of the pianos I found had been open at all!

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Piano 35: Hunter’s Point Park

  • Tuesday, June 16th: More thunderstorms in the forecast, but I thought I might as well try my luck!
  • I just love these locations that are near the water. I bet it would have been even more beautiful on a sunny day.
  • This mirror piano combined with the cloudy day made for a very reflective morning.
  • Two mothers each brought their children in strollers over to listen to me.
  • I performed my five Chopin preludes with much more success than before.

The next two locations – WNYC Transmitter Park and McGolrick Park – BOTH had locked pianos because of the inclement weather. Nevertheless, I still pressed onward.


Piano 36: Maria Hernandez Park

  • I successfully performed a bunch of new pieces, but people didn’t pay much attention at this location.
  • I thought about how certain neighborhoods and certain groups of people tended to be more or less responsive to music in general. I thought about how each piano location had its own unique atmosphere and character.
  • And I thought about how you should always play with all your heart, even when no one is listening.
  • A man showed up and seemed to enjoy playing and singing something with Latin rhythms even though he wasn’t a very advanced pianist.
  • As I was leaving, a mother was trying to coax her daughter into playing the piano. So different from the parents who practically had to drag their children away from these outdoor pianos!

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Piano 37: Brownsville Recreation Center

  • I had such an incredibly warm welcome at this location!
  • A older man named Robert convinced me to go inside and see the facilities of the recreation center even though I insisted that I wasn’t an athlete. Everyone inside was so friendly and accommodating.
  • I met Mitch, who sings Caribbean music and apparently has quite a following on YouTube.
  • I also met a lady at the front desk who used to sing opera!
  • Robert and Mitch convinced a whole bunch of people to come out of the recreation center to hear me play. And even after I performed a few pieces for them, Mitch would still bring out other people one by one. It was very sweet and rather funny.
  • Both my playing and my singing were received very warmly. Mitch even asked me for vocal tips, which I found very flattering.
  • I was asked if I gave piano lessons and if I would come back to perform for some sort of event, but I told them that unfortunately I lived too far away.
  • I told them what a wonderful community they had there and thanked them for treating me as such an honored guest.

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Piano 38: Carl Schurz Park

  • The setting sun was so bright and powerful as I entered the park that I had to snap a picture.
  • This location was just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I thought I was taking a huge risk by continuing to try to find pianos with rain in the forecast, but somehow the rain just never really came. I was very glad that I had decided to take the chance.
  • As you can see from the pictures above: Two guys were playing some sort of boogie-woogie duet when I showed up. Then a guitarist showed up and started to play along with them! The playing was of a very high level.
  • I talked to them and found out that Alan was the pianist who was sitting down, Sebastian was the pianist who was standing up, and Danny was the guitarist. Apparently Alan and Danny had known each other for over 30 years (!) and Sebastian had just met them at that location.
  • I said I would play my arrangement of the Castle in the Sky theme. In an amazing coincidence, Sebastian said he had just played the theme at that piano not too long ago! It turned out that he was a huge Miyazaki fan.
  • The piano’s keys were not all completely responsive, but somehow I had struck a chord with the audience and received quite a lot of applause. Someone even asked for an encore. I of course happily obliged!

The next post will be about adventures in Staten Island with my mom!

The Sing for Hope Pianos, Part 5

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Piano 25: DUMBO Archway

  • Thursday, June 11th (continued): On the first day of the Sing for Hope Pianos event, I had come to this location to discover loud music blaring over the speakers. I had felt at the time that I should really only play the piano if I could be heard without music in the background.
  • Perhaps I should have just played the piano at that time, because this time there was music playing through the speakers again! I found out from a nice girl working there – Kaylee – that apparently I just had bad timing. Often there were events going on at the Archway in the evening.
  • There was a group of five or six people gathered around the piano, so I politely asked if they could take my picture. They were very enthusiastic about my playing.

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Return to Brooklyn Bridge Park

  • It was such a beautiful day that I decided to celebrate the halfway point of the adventure by returning to Brooklyn Bridge Park to play for a while by the water.
  • Performed a lot of new pieces with varying degrees of success.
  • Met Jean-Michel, a middle-aged man from Paris who played and sung quite well despite not having done so for a long time. We had a really warm conversation.
  • Met an old man and his middle-aged son. The old man spoke very little English (mostly only Spanish), but he was very friendly and kept making the joke that I had to pay $50 to hear his son, Mozart (his son was unfortunately just hitting the keys randomly and making noise for fun!). He said the rates would increase the longer I listened. I found it all very amusing.
  • On my way to the subway, I passed back through the DUMBO Archway. Kaylee, the girl from earlier, said that she had enjoyed my playing and that I should come back to play again.

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Piano 26: Goddard Riverside / Bernie Wohl Center

  • Friday, June 12th: Met Susan, a Piano Buddy (one of the people that takes care of the pianos) and the one who had applied to have a Sing For Hope piano at this location. She explained that every piano opens and closes at different times depending on the Piano Buddy. In order to encourage a sense of community and openness, she had decided to simply leave the piano unlocked during the duration of the event. She had also attached a note asking people to cover the piano if it rained and if it was very late at night. After she heard some of my playing, Susan took down my information and also took pictures and recorded video. She was very friendly and warm.
  • Met Nancy, an older woman who stayed and listened to my playing for a long time. She was very sweet and kept saying how listening to the piano had “really really” made her day. It seemed like she had been having somewhat of a rough time beforehand. I was really pleased that she had been so positively affected by the music.
  • I also met up with my very good friend Rocío at this location. She performed a solo piece and we had a good time sight-reading some four-hand music together!

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Piano 27: Riverside Park North – Rotunda at 151st St.

  • I used to live just two blocks from the 168th St. subway station in Washington Heights. It was very nostalgic to return to this area, especially because I used to run through Riverside Park from 165th St. to 145th St. and back every morning!
  • Rocío and I both performed solo pieces here, but nobody was around except for a couple being rather intimate nearby. I feared at first that we were interrupting their moment, but ultimately decided that it was the couple who had chosen a bad location, not us.
  • Met Matt, a classical guitarist who owned a music school nearby. He shared with us the information that Franz Schubert (the famous composer) had apparently been a guitarist and had done much of his composing on the guitar! Rocío and I were both very impressed with this knowledge at the time. Unfortunately, I did some research afterwards and it turns out that there is no direct evidence to support this controversial claim…

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Piano 28: Highbridge Park Recreation Center

  • Also in Washington Heights
  • No one was really around this location when we showed up.
  • Rocío was kind enough to record Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag for me, and some parts of it went surprisingly well even though the higher register of the piano was very out of tune and I had a few memory issues. Thankfully the piece does not use the high register of the piano very much.
  • The lovely couple pictured above showed up at some point. I thought they were just two random people who had happened upon the piano, but it turned out that the girl was Deanna, the one who had painted the piano! And the guy was Blake, her boyfriend and the singer-songwriter whose songs had inspired Deanna to come up with the design!
  • I had never had the good fortune of meeting one of the actual artists before, so this was a really pleasant surprise.
  • Blake played and sung a wonderful, moving song for us that he wrote himself.
  • I answered by playing and singing Stars from Les Misérables. Unfortunately it didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped it would, but I was overall still happy with the performance.
  • Deanna told us a lot about the message of the piano and a lot of the little details. She says: “I choose music, color, love, and joy to lead the way.” Her message is very, very beautiful. You can read more here.
  • I began to realize that even though there is a good amount of information about the design of each piano on the Sing For Hope website, it really is so different and so moving to hear about the pianos directly from the artists!

Rocío and I were planning to head to Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx, but I had also planned to see my student Skylar perform that day. Just when Rocío and I got to the subway station, Skylar texted me that she would arrive at the Lincoln Center piano soon with her parents. So Rocío headed home and I returned to the Lincoln Center piano. Unfortunately, Skylar’s family misjudged the time and ended up being very late. During this time, I watched a bunch of people playing. But for me, the highlights were:

  • A girl of perhaps 10 or 11 playing Debussy’s Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum from his Children’s Corner suite. Played rather slowly but quite well!
  • A girl with piano bag – probably a college student – playing Chopin’s 1st Scherzo. She had quite a few memory problems though. I think she became very nervous when people started to gather around her.
  • A man who showed up with his baby daughter in a stroller and then proceeded to play great jazz!

Skylar finally arrived with her mom and dad. We attempted to patiently wait our turn, but I advised her to ask politely to play if the man continued for much longer. Unfortunately, a teenage boy showed up and cut in without noticing Skylar. There was a large group of teenagers with him – his friends and classmates, I assume. He played bits of pop pieces and then tried to play the beginning of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, but it seemed he had too many memory issues to continue. After waiting for a bit, Skylar finally got her chance to play!


Skylar at Lincoln Center

  • Skylar proceeded to perform Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude and Ocean Étude, both new pieces for her. It was the first time she had performed either of them!
  • When she started to play the Revolutionary Étude, the teenagers that were leaving became very vocal about the difference in skill between her and the previous kid and said, “OHHH!!! Get WRECKED!!” I felt kind of bad for the guy, but it was still rather funny.
  • People gathered around to listen to Skylar and were very responsive. It wasn’t the most solid performance, but what do you expect out of a first performance of Chopin Études? I was very happy that she still remained calm and played strong to the end.


Skylar at Central Park – Literary Walk

  • Skylar performed the Études again, this time more successfully. I am very proud of her for adapting to new situations and for performing these notoriously difficult pieces so professionally.
  • I met a man named Sid who loves fugues (a type of composition with usually three or four different melodies occurring simultaneously, basically). He was not a professional pianist, but he apparently was only very passionate about learning fugues on the piano. He had at least 24 of them in his memory (!!!), including fugues from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. He also knew a lot of fugues from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, but didn’t care so much to learn the Preludes that preceded each one. Pianists know that fugues are often incredibly difficult to memorize. I thought: there must be very few amateur pianists in the entire world that know this many fugues!
  • I performed one or two piano pieces, and then Skylar recorded Stars for me. I was quite happy with most parts of this performance.

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Skylar at Central Park – Glade Arch

  • This was the piano where I had met David, Steve, and Todd four days ago (it seemed like so much longer!)
  • Unfortunately the pedal was broken this time around (!), so Skylar decided not to perform her Études.
  • Instead, Skylar played two pop songs and I sung along with one of them even though I didn’t know it that well.
  • As a lesson in both how to adapt to any situation and how important it is to practice without pedal, I performed my Castle in the Sky arrangement for Skylar and her parents with no pedal at all. I relied only on my hands to play legato and express clear musical thought.
  • Somebody clapped and responded very favorably to my playing. It turned out to be the artist of this piano, Stefan Sierhej, from Poland! It was such an incredible coincidence that I had somehow met two artists in one day. For whatever reason, it would later turn out, sadly, that I would not meet any other artists after this point.
  • The page on the Sing For Hope website about Stefan mentions that he used the Gold Leaf technique to design this beautiful piano, but it doesn’t express his personal thoughts on the technique at all. When we talked to Stefan, he talked more about it and also explained that it was quite a difficult project for him because he had never used the technique before. Well, obviously it had turned out beautifully!
  • What is the story behind each work of art? Each piece of music? Each place you visit or person you meet? Talking to Stefan about his secret struggles reminded me that beneath the surface, there are always many details hidden away, waiting to be discovered. And that is part of the wonder of the world.

My phone was almost out of batteries at this point. I led Skylar and her parents out of Central Park, and we proceeded to have a very nice dinner together. I hadn’t planned on spending so much time with them, but I was happy that I gotten to bond a little with my student and very pleased that she had grown so much as a musician. With very little time left in the day and no batteries remaining, I decided to call it a day despite having visited only three new pianos. I started to wonder if it would really be possible to find all 50 pianos in time…