Tag Archives: performing

Reflections on the 100 Piece Challenge, Part 2

In this post, I am continuing reflections on the 100 Piece Challenge that I started here.

I said in my previous post that pieces should be “ready to revive at any time” – this is what I mean by pieces becoming “a permanent part of my repertoire”. I would like to say some more about this:

  • For some of the major pieces that I learned in the distant past, a revival would take a very long time because I didn’t properly preserve the musical thoughts that I had at the time.
  • For each of the pieces that I learned during the 100 Piece Challenge, I know the exact fingering, shaping, balance, sound, etc. of each note – this is documented not only by the recording itself but by necessary markings in the score. I will show examples of some of my marked-up scores in the future to show what I mean. This leaves them ready to revive and re-memorize very quickly.

I still would like to have as many pieces as possible “at my fingertips” and “ready to play at any moment” – I want to see how far I can stretch those limits as well. However, it is not a requirement of any Challenge that I undertake. In fact, I should again note that it wasn’t a requirement in the first place, but is merely one interpretation of “permanent part of my repertoire”.

So, looking back at the requirements for the 100 Piece Challenge that I talked about in last year’s post, the three main rules were satisfied and I will continue to hold myself by these rules. Here they are:

  1. In the original 40 Piece Challenge, pieces are not required to be memorized. However, I must memorize all of my pieces.
  2. In the original challenge, one could move on from the pieces once they have been learned. However, I must keep all of the pieces in my memory. This means they become a permanent part of my repertoire.
  3. I saw that quite a few teachers chose to record themselves. I will give myself the same requirement and post all recordings on both YouTube and Facebook.

In that post, I mentioned some other points as well. For instance, I wrote, “Pieces can be very short as long as they are legitimate pieces of music. Many of the recordings I saw teachers posting were only one or two minutes long. There were also quite a few under one minute long.” I would like to elaborate on this comment.

Actually, there had never been any kind of rule set (either in the original 40 Piece Challenge or in my own 100 Piece Challenge) that there was a minimum length for the pieces.

  • A piece’s value, after all, is not determined by how long it takes to play it. Several Chopin Preludes, for instance, certainly take under one minute to play.
  • If a piece is short, a minimum time limit would probably encourage a slower tempo. And altering a piece’s tempo for the purposes of having it count towards a Challenge makes very little sense.

However, I found that there were at least two situations where the piece I wanted to learn – despite being “legitimate” (i.e. of real musical value, worth sharing with others, worth learning to improve one’s musicianship, etc.) – was both very short and relatively easy to learn, memorize, and record.

  • The first was when playing shorter compositions by undisputed masters such as Beethoven, Schubert, or Mozart. Pieces such as German dances, ländler, and minuets are examples.
  • The second was when playing pieces originally written by living composers for pedagogical / teaching purposes. For instance, I recorded many of the pieces from the Microjazz series by Christopher Norton. When I decided to increase the tempo of many of the pieces for my own musical and interpretational reasons, many of the pieces ended up even shorter than originally intended by the composer.

Since I found the effort and time to record most of these pieces to be much less than that which was required to record others, I (privately) created a new set of rules during last year’s 100 Piece Challege that explained how I would sometimes count two pieces as one piece. I still believe that counting each piece separately would have completely satisfied the rules of the Challenge, but I wanted to encourage myself to learn even more pieces. I also wanted to at least acknowledge to some extent that the difficulty of learning some of the pieces was less than originally anticipated.

  • If the piece is less than one minute long, it will be counted as only half of a piece (for the purposes of the total piece count – this does not mean that it is any less legitimate). A piece less than one minute long will be counted as one piece only if is it of exceptional difficulty to me or was unusually difficult to record (but the extra time and effort would have to be substantial for this exception to be made).
  • If the piece is one minute in length or longer, it will typically be counted as one piece, even if it is not particularly challenging to record. This is for two reasons.
  • First, it often requires more concentration to create a longer recording (i.e. to play longer without messing up!), even if the piece itself is simpler.
  • Second, the listeners will have more music to listen to when a longer piece is shared. In this simple way (even though it does not make the piece more “valid” in any way), a longer piece may be more substantial.
  • If the piece is more than one minute long but is unusually easy to learn, it may also be counted as half of a piece.
  • If the piece is unusually easy to learn even compared to other pieces counted as “half of a piece”, it may be counted as a third of a piece. Examples may include pieces originally intended for relatively younger children.

Since I still have many more things to say, I have decided to continue these reflections and new rules as another series of posts. Hopefully, these thoughts will be useful for understanding the mindset necessary for undertaking something like the 100 Piece Challenge and for constantly striving to find new ways to improve one’s musicianship, flexibility, and discipline in the process. I believe that the creation of, strict adherence to, and subsequent adjustment of self-imposed rules is crucial to success in endeavors such as this.

Reflections on the 40 Piece Challenge and the 100 Piece Challenge

A new year means that I had to decide whether to redo the 100 Piece Challenge or to issue myself a new Challenge. It also gives me a good excuse to talk about what I learned last year and to revive this blog yet again. For details about the 40 Piece Challenge I issued my students and the 100 Piece Challenge I gave myself, please see this post from exactly one year ago.

The 40 Piece Challenge was a big success with my students last year! Even though there were also a lot of students who didn’t pass, I can safely that for all of my students:

  • Sight-reading skills noticeably improved.
  • Ability to solve problems (both musical and technical) independently improved greatly.
  • There was a definite increased motivation to both bring current pieces to a high level and to continue to learn new pieces.
  • They became mentally stronger and better able to manage time.
  • Since they were exposed to more rhythms, coordinations, and different musical situations in general, they developed greater stylistic awareness and learned faster overall.

I have decided to continue issuing the 40 Piece Challenge to my students every year. Each student does the Challenge on their own time – in other words, their start and end dates vary a lot and they can restart the Challenge at any time.

With both the 40 Piece Challenge and the 100 Piece Challenge, I used many of the new practicing methods that I have been developing over the past two years. In the case of the students, of course, I taught them these methods in order to help them achieve their maximum potential. I hope to continue revising and strengthening these strategies and to finally write more about them this year. I also have confidence that many more students will pass the 40 Piece Challenge this year since they (and I) have much more experience now.

In terms of uploading the 100th video, I publicly competed the 100 Piece Challenge on October 20th, the 100th Piece being Chopin Prelude Op. 28 No. 15, the “Raindrop” Prelude. I uploaded piece #133 yesterday night (December 31st, 2016) as the final piece of the year. I don’t have a custom YouTube URL, but if you search “david chang 100 piece challenge” on YouTube, you will find all of the videos.


I have a lot of scattered thoughts and reflections about how the Challenge went. Some of these thoughts will directly address the requirements that I set myself in my post from one year ago. Some of them will ponder over what I learned from the Challenge – both the expected and the unexpected. And still other reflections will be on mental and emotional obstacles, what the purpose of the Challenge actually was, and how issuing a new Challenge is at all useful or relevant in the context of larger goals. Here they are in no particular order:

Regarding my saying in my original post that “I am able to learn music five to ten times faster” than before:

  • This is certainly no exaggeration at all in terms of the number of pieces I ended up learning, but it’s true that the length and difficulty of the pieces in a solo piano recital program are significantly greater.
  • I should also note, though, that in the past it would be months before I felt I could learn and memorize even a simple piece of music. It would take incredibly long to work out the technical difficulties, to make all of the musical decisions (such as shaping and touch), to feel like the memory is solid, and then eventually to get up the nerve to record and listen to myself. And then I certainly wouldn’t share or perform the piece once I had finished learning it. In this sense, the fact that I ended up able to share newly learned pieces so often truly supports my claim of “five to ten times faster” than before.
  • As a result, I feel much more confident now that my methodologies really do work.

In my previous post, I said regarding the 100 Piece Challenge, “I must keep all of the pieces in my memory. This means they become a permanent part of my repertoire.”

  • At the time, I meant that all of the pieces would be ready to play at any time, and indeed, for most of the year, I attempted to have every single piece from the Challenge (and others from before the Challenge) at my fingertips at all times.
  • If I had to have the first 100 pieces simultaneously ready to immediately perform in order to pass the 100 Piece Challenge, then I was in fact not successful last year (though I was close).
  • It is also difficult to give a strict definition of “ready to play”. To me, “ready to play” did not mean that a piece would be played flawlessly, but rather that the piece could be performed musically and convincingly without too many errors. But “without too many errors” can also mean many different things when you compare, for instance, an audience of laypeople with an audience of pianists.
  • As the Challenge went on, I found that I could maintain more and more music in a performable condition (over five hours at some points… for laypeople at least), but it became increasingly difficult to maintain ALL of the pieces while continuing to learn new ones.
  • I now feel that while keeping all pieces “at the fingertips” is possible, it is simply too time-consuming and takes too much energy away from learning new pieces and from achieving other goals.

I am therefore revising “permanent part of my repertoire” to mean “ready to revive at any time” rather than “ready to play at this very moment”.

  • “Ready to revive” could mean anything from 20-30 minutes of review for a simple piece to several days to a week for a major piece.
  • To make sure that the piece is ready for performance, it’s important to forget and re-remember it in sets several times (or many times) as described in my earlier posts, so it’s best to allocate a day or two to be safe if it’s an important performance.
  • I know that a lot of high-level pianists have a similar conception of how to maintain their repertoire.
    • Many learned their pieces well enough that they can revive them in a very short amount of time.
    • Having previously learned (and revived / re-learned) music so slowly, I always assumed that they had some sort of superhuman ability.
    • The way I learned pieces for the 100 Piece Challenge is so thorough, however, that I now feel confident in my short-term revival ability.
      • However, obviously technical difficulties can still arise if I didn’t solve all technical issues in the piece at the time of the learning / recording.

In my next post, I will continue my reflections on the 100 Piece Challenge.

The Sing For Hope Pianos, Part 8 [FINAL]

Thursday, June 18th: I only had two main goals remaining: record I Dreamed A Dream from Les Misérables and find all 50 Sing For Hope Pianos. My friend Lauren was again graciously accompanying me in order to help me accomplish the first goal. However, because of cloudiness and the chance of scattered showers, we found several nearby pianos in Manhattan to be closed.

I decided that it was too risky to travel all the way to the three remaining pianos since they might also be closed. I reasoned that since I had only three pianos remaining, it made more sense to continue to travel to nearby pianos (that I had already visited) in the hopes of getting a good recording. At least I could complete my first goal this way.

Times Square Piano

  • I was surprised to find the black key that had been missing from this piano the previous week replaced and the piano itself in perfect working condition. So the pianos in Manhattan really do receive much more love and attention after all.
  • To my delight and amusement, a man said that I was his “superstar” after I sung Stars.
  • I later found out from Lauren that two men had set up a big camera behind me and recorded me while I sung I Dreamed A Dream. At the time, a girl named Maria told me I had a great voice after I had finished singing.
  • I also met this girl named Bree and accompanied her while she sung On My Own (also from Les Mis). She was very happy with my accompaniment and talked to me for a while about her band. She also shared with me that she was both legally blind and completely colorblind. She said she sees the world in shades of gray, which would mean that she has monochromatic vision.

Herald Square Piano

  • I sung I Dreamed A Dream here and played some piano pieces as well. I met a man named Russ who spoke very highly about me as a musician, but also criticized some aspects of my piano technique. The man was clearly not a classical pianist and furthermore was acting like the piano belonged to him. I told Lauren (and myself) how silly it was to get negatively affected by just a few words from him.
  • I also briefly spoke to Jeremiah, a classical pianist who told me that he had really enjoyed my playing.

Astor Place Piano

  • Unfortunately, in the end I later decided that I wasn’t completely happy with any full takes of I Dreamed A Dream (I almost was!), but this was my favorite clip (sorry for the poor quality):
  • I got dinner and spent time with Lauren for a while. After we parted ways, I went back to the Astor Place piano by myself.
  • Amazingly, this girl named Sherry came up to me and said she recognized me from one of my performances in Central Park the week before! I was very taken aback for three reasons: it had been over a week since then, we had never even spoken, and she was so sure that it was me! But she showed me video that she had taken and it was indeed me playing the piano. I was very flattered that she had remembered me and we had a very nice chat. I then gave her my e-mail address and we took a picture together.
  • I met four great people soon afterwards – two teachers and two assistant principals who were visiting a charter school in the city. Of course I had my Les Misérables piano / vocal book with me in my backpack, so I took it out and had a lot of fun singing through some songs with one of the assistant principals before they had to leave.
  • I performed solo both Broadway songs and classical pieces and they were very well received by people nearby.
  • I met Shun, a singer. He asked me if I could sight-read and I said, “Well, maybe! It depends.” I then sight-read the accompaniment to a song that he had with him. It was easy enough that I was able to follow him very well and we had a very successful performance.
  • I was very happy that I had such huge successes that day with playing, singing, and accompanying. I had also regained a lot of confidence in my singing after my performances had been so well-received multiple times.

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Piano 48: Carmine Carro Community Center

  • Friday, June 19th: I woke up fairly confident that I would be able to find the remaining three pianos. I was also aware, however, that there was a chance of scattered showers by the early afternoon.
  • Carmine Carro Community Center is located in Marine Park in Brooklyn. For some reason, there is no subway stop anywhere near the park and I irrationally didn’t want to take the bus. I ended up walking half an hour from the Q train stop.
  • When I arrived, I thought for a moment that the piano was missing (just like the missing piano in Staten Island), but it turned out that I was just on the wrong side.
  • I really felt such a relaxed, open vibe from this community center.
  • There were a bunch of kids happily taking turns playing and singing together at the piano. I felt bad interrupting them, but after 15 minutes decided that I could take no further chances with the weather.
  • The kids were all impressed with my playing and very interested in the fact that I was close to completing my quest to find the 50 pianos.

I conquered my inexplicable fear of New York City buses and took one by myself for the first time by using Google Maps – of course, it really wasn’t a big deal.

Before I got on the subway, I noticed a homeless woman holding a sign. I used to just completely ignore people holding signs, but I had decided recently that I would at least read them from a respectable distance and decide if the person was really intending to use the money to feed themselves (or for some other positive purpose). Apparently, she had many severe medical conditions and needed money for surgeries. When I talked to her, I found out that she was a lover of classical music and also used to play the piano. But she had lost two of the fingers on her right hand due to complications from her illnesses! Our talk really made me reflect once again on how incredibly lucky I am to be happy, healthy, and able to make music. I gave her some money, wished her good luck, and continued on my way.

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Piano 49: McGolrick Park

  • I had actually already been to the two remaining pianos. Both of them had previously been closed because of rain.
  • There weren’t many people around, but the location and the piano were both rather beautiful.
  • Several of the keys also didn’t work on this piano, so I played only briefly and hoped that the last piano would be open.

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Piano 50: WNYC Transmitter Park

  • Somehow, things worked out wonderfully and I arrived to find the final piano not only open, but completely available for me to play.
  • I celebrated by playing for quite a long time. A small group of people nearby were kind enough to applaud after each piece.

At the end of the Sing For Hope Pianos event, I found that I had:

  • Gained a huge amount of experience as both pianist and singer
  • Become able to perform any piece in any situation (immediately upon sitting down!), regardless of the condition of the piano, the location, the weather, and any number of distractions
  • Helped a lot of new pieces to grow by performing them whenever possible
  • Recorded a lot of my playing to share with family, friends, and whoever is interested
  • Further convinced myself of the power of mental practicing: Not only did I use it to keep all of my repertoire in my head without too much physical practicing, but I also used it to learn correct mistakes as I went from piano to piano. In addition, I was also getting a head start on learning even newer pieces.
  • Met so many wonderful people
  • Seen so many beautiful locations and pianos
  • Written these eight blog posts (and I had no idea they would end up so lengthy!) detailing everything that happened along the way
  • Completed an unforgettable adventure with the help of my parents and my dear friend Lauren


Sing for Hope made me this lovely image upon hearing of my completion of the All 50 Challenge. I think I was one of only five people to find all of the pianos. I was also invited to Sing For Hope’s office where I received a bag full of goodies as a reward and met their very warm and accommodating staff.

Thank you so much for reading and I’m looking forward to writing about my other projects very soon!

The Sing For Hope Pianos, Part 7

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Piano 39: Joyce Kilmer Park

  • Wednesday, June 17th: Just like I had visited most of the pianos in the Bronx with my dad, I decided that the only way to visit all of the Staten Island pianos was to plan a fun day trip with my mom.
  • I decided to meet my mom at Joyce Kilmer Park, the final location in the Bronx that I had already visited twice (and that had been closed both times). Third time’s the charm, because the piano was finally open!
  • My mom even sat down and played a little bit of lovely Chinese music. I hadn’t heard her play piano in a very long time!
  • There were a few keys sticking on this piano as well. I figured that as the Sing for Hope event went on, more and more pianos would be suffering from the weather, so I was only slightly disappointed. But nothing could have prepared for me for what would happen at the next location…



  • We went all the way to Staten Island next to find the piano located at the South Beach Boardwalk. One of my students had just sent me a picture of herself playing this piano the previous week. But when we got there, the piano was nowhere to be found!
  • I thought we must have just been slightly confused about the location, so my mom and I decided to split up and walk in opposite directions along the boardwalk. But even after a few minutes of walking, there was nothing to suggest even a hint of a piano.
  • I ultimately decided to jog in one direction for a small distance while my mom rested. I actually reached the end of the boardwalk and again found nothing! Jogging part of the way in the other direction also resulted in no leads.
  • I even asked two different people who were working at food stands if they had seen the piano and neither of them knew what I was talking about.
  • I thought the whole situation was so strange. The pianos were always very carefully secured and should have been impossible to steal. Plus, I had found pianos that had suffered from quite a bit of damage in the past. Was there any reason to just completely remove the piano before the end of the event when the entire event lasts only two weeks?
  • Finally, I found someone working at a food stand who said that they had definitely seen a piano there the previous week, but that they didn’t know what had happened to it.
  • Slightly disappointed and confused, my mom and I decided to simply move on to the next location. I sent Sing For Hope an e-mail to let them know the situation and hopefully get a satisfactory explanation.
  • But yet again, even after this, I wasn’t at all ready for what would occur at the next few locations…

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Piano 40: Tappen Park

  • It’s a bit difficult to tell from the picture, but this piano had many keys that were sticking – even more so than the piano in Joyce Kilmer Park!
  • So this piano, regrettably, was virtually unplayable. I figured that the pianos all the way out in Staten Island were much less frequently visited than pianos in, for instance, Manhattan. I made a decision to notify Sing For Hope about any pianos I found that had an unusual amount of damage, as it was possible that they would not find out about them otherwise.
  • Around this time, I received a very prompt and polite reply from Sing For Hope about the piano located at the South Beach Boardwalk – the piano HAD indeed been removed because of extensive damage! Apparently that information had been listed on the website somewhere, but I hadn’t known about it. That piano would not count against me if I was trying to find all 50 pianos. Although I was very surprised that the piano had been removed, I was relieved that the mystery had been solved.

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Piano 41: Clove Lakes Park

  • I was absolutely horrified to find this piano completely destroyed. Many of the black keys were lying pitifully on the ground.
  • Could this really be only because of the weather? Were the black keys on this piano particularly fragile for some reason? After all, the black keys had not come off on any of the other pianos. Or was it, in fact, vandalism? Seriously? What kind of person would destroy a piano for no reason?

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Piano 42: Faber Park Field House

  • The images may not be as graphic as those of the previous piano, but if you look closely, you’ll see that virtually the entire keybed has sunk because of water damage.
  • Like the previous piano, the keys could not be budged a millimeter. I was really at a loss for words at the time.
  • Of course, I notified Sing For Hope about this and the preceding pianos. They responded quickly and were very thankful that I had notified them. They said that they would send people to take a look at the pianos as soon as possible. I was realizing through my communications with them what an incredibly genuine, down-to-earth group of people the Sing For Hope team was.
  • This is, of course, the dark side and the risk of organizing a wonderful project like the Sing For Hope Pianos. Not everyone is responsible. Not everyone takes care of the pianos. We can only rely on the kindness and wisdom of strangers. Even if the worst happens, as in these cases, we remember what incredible joy and excitement the instruments brought to their respective communities before they were destroyed. And hopefully we can learn from these mistakes as we move on to future projects.

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Piano 43: Conference House

  • Finally, a working piano!
  • If you look at the second image, you’ll see that the lid of the piano was originally open only halfway when we arrived. A woman had been playing the piano with the lid in this state and I thought for a moment that this piano was also somehow broken. I played for a little while in the same fashion until I realized that there was a little latch on the side in the way of the lid. Very silly.
  • I still wanted to do some recordings, but there were people relaxing and enjoying the quiet nearby. It didn’t seem appropriate to disrupt the environment with a virtuosic piece in this setting.
  • Plus, for some reason there were lots of flies buzzing around this piano and my mom was continuously trying to shoo them away while I was playing. There didn’t seem to be any reason why they would congregate around the piano. I guess the flies must really love music..?

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Piano 44: Historic Richmond Town

  • This was a really refreshing, quaint, quiet spot with a beautiful golden-keyed piano. I was happy that the last Staten Island piano we visited had turned out to be the best one. It also seemed to be the perfect place to record.
  • We actually got interrupted by a random man who started asking us questions while my mom was recording. We decided to leave him alone for a little while since he wanted to play the piano. Thankfully he was gone when we returned.
  • Nobody else showed up at all during the remainder of our time there.
  • My mom recorded for me this clip of Chopin’s Étude Op. 10 No. 12 (“Revolutionary”).
  • I was also very happy that I was able to achieve one of my main goals for this project: record in its entirety Godowsky’s arrangement of the same piece for left hand alone:


Piano 45: South Beach Boardwalk

  • My mom and I both thought it would be a good idea to at least take a picture of the location with the missing piano, so we stopped by on the way back to Brooklyn.

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Piano 46: Rockaway Park

  • My mom is superhuman, so even though we had already visited all the Staten Island pianos (plus the one in the Bronx), she drove us all the way to Rockaway Park!
  • It was strangely cold by this point, and I had goosebumps wearing short-sleeves.
  • I was surprised to discover someone playing Chopin Preludes quite musically. I wondered if the man was a serious pianist. Since it was cold and getting late, though, I decided not to stay and chat for too long. He did express that he really liked my playing before I left.

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Piano 47: Roy Wilkins Recreation Center

  • This piano was in Jamaica, Queens and was our final stop for the day.
  • Again, nobody was around, and I played only briefly before we decided to head home.
  • It was funny how I had barely played any pianos the entire day since a lot of them were damaged and one of them was missing. It was also funny how almost nobody had heard me play the piano that day. Yet, just being able to play for my mom at a few locations and spending so much time together made the entire day worth it.
  • Also, I absolutely loved how the entire piano adventure was always so utterly unpredictable.

Next post – the end of the Sing For Hope Pianos journey!

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…

The Sing for Hope Pianos, Part 4

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Piano 18: Flushing Town Hall

  • Wednesday, June 9th (continued): These very cute kids had been happily banging on the piano when I arrived, so my dad and I just stood off to the side and let them play for a bit.
  • The piano was unfortunately in very poor condition – the notes were all extremely short and clipped regardless of how you played it. However, I still tried to play as musically as I could since the kids seemed so enthralled with the music.
  • I ended up performing Chopin Étude Op. 25 No. 11 (“Winter Wind”) while the little girl watched with great interest. The best part is that she started moving her fingers along with me!
  • People applauded and were very appreciative here.

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Piano 19: Unisphere at Flushing Meadows

  • Apparently, the amazing Unisphere was the symbol of the 1964 – 1965 New York World’s Fair. The theme of the fair was “Peace Through Understanding”. Somehow I had no idea that this enormous (and very well-known) structure existed!
  • It was very beautiful to discover this piano, covered with flowers, beneath a gazebo with the Unisphere in the distance.
  • Some girls asked me and my dad for directions while we were walking there. While I wasn’t able to give them directions to where they wanted to go, they seemed very interested in my little piano adventure, so they came along with us and listened to me play. People were again very appreciative here.
  • I “formally” performed the Godowsky arrangement of Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude for left hand alone here. It was fairly successful!
  • At this point, it was around 7:30pm and my dad and I decided to finally call it a day and get some well-deserved dinner.


In Which I Waste A Huge Amount of Time

  • Thursday, June 11th: The next day, I was adventuring by myself again. I decided to be very ambitious and get to the first piano by 8am. This was a gamble because I remembered that the pianos were all supposed to be opened up by 10am. I had no idea if that applied only to the first day of the event or if it applied to each day.
  • So I got to Sunset Park in Brooklyn at 8am and was greeted by the image above: many, many Chinese people exercising to some sort of recorded track and the piano covered by the attached tarp. But I gradually realized that the piano itself was actually open (the tarp was only covering the top). However, I didn’t want to interrupt the exercise routine. Besides, I knew I wouldn’t be able to perform freely unless the recorded music stopped.
  • And by the way, next to the exercising people was ANOTHER group of people dancing to ANOTHER recorded track going on simultaneously.
  • I waited for 40 minutes and finally gave up, resolving to go to the next piano and to come back later.
  • I proceeded to take the subway the wrong direction, simultaneously losing a newly-purchased umbrella in the process…
  • I got to the Washington Park / Old Stone House location to find THAT piano LOCKED. I waited until 10am and still no one showed up! On a whim, I decided to circle the park one time.
  • Upon returning, I discovered the piano opened but unplayable. I then met one of the people (presumably hired by Sing For Hope) that fixes the pianos; unfortunately I forgot to ask him his name. He said the soundboard had been heavily damaged in the rain. I felt extremely grateful for his help and realized how hard his job must be – the pianos throughout the entire installation must be getting continuously damaged by weather and other factors. I decided to go back to Sunset Park instead and return to this one later.

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Piano 20: Sunset Park

  • Upon my return to Sunset Park, I was amazed to discover that, THREE HOURS LATER, the same group of people that had been dancing off to the side was still dancing! And now the exercising group had been replaced by another dancing group. Both groups were dancing to separate recorded tracks right next to the piano. I finally conceded defeat.
  • A mother had been letting her little baby play the piano when I had arrived and it looked they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I felt bad for interrupting, but asked her to take a picture. This was the first location where I didn’t perform a full piece – the recorded music was absolutely nonstop and I wanted to let the baby get back to his musical exploring.
  • There was also a language barrier because the woman didn’t speak English and spoke very little Mandarin Chinese. But eventually I did get her to take the picture shown above.

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Piano 21: Washington Park / Old Stone House

  • So finally I returned to the other location! The repairman was gone at this point. The piano was in better condition, but several of the keys still didn’t work, unfortunately. I think there’s only so much you can do for a damaged piano in a short amount of time.
  • It was VERY hot but I again performed Chopin’s Black Key Étude and Chopin Étude Op. 10 No. 8. By the way, here is the clip of Op. 10 No. 8 performed at Williamsbridge Oval Community Center that I mentioned in my previous post. Somehow, I wasn’t able to start the Black Key Étude well and I had a few memory slips during Op. 10 No. 8. I knew I still had to perform them more if I wanted them to become more solid.
  • I met someone named Ben who applauded after Op. 10 No. 8. He wasn’t a pianist, but apparently he likes the piece a lot and had just been listening to it on his phone! What are the chances?

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Piano 22: Prospect Park – Grand Army Plaza

  • I had never been here before either and had no idea of the existence of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. Apparently it is even slightly larger than the arch in Washington Square Park! I thought it was so surreal to find this beautiful grand piano looking like a toy next to this massive structure. So beautiful…
  • I performed the two Études I had just mentioned and they went better! I think partially it was because I had done some mental practicing on my way to this location.
  • I performed the first book of the Brahms-Paganini Variations for the first time even though I knew that I had not yet properly practiced the ending. As expected, the ending was a mess but the rest of it went reasonably well despite a few memory slips.
  • I decided to also sing Stars from Les Misérables – it was my first time “officially” singing at one of the Sing for Hope pianos since I had been sick at the beginning of the event! I hadn’t warmed up earlier in the day, so it didn’t exactly go great. I resolved to perform it better in the future.
  • I met a guy named Kolson (unusual name!) who was super passionate about harmonies and harmonic structure. He talked at length about “one-note songs” where the melody note would largely stay the same while harmonies moved underneath. It was refreshing to meet someone so spirited and vocal.
  • While I was leaving, I met a really sweet dog-walker named Jessica. She had really appreciated my performing and we had a very pleasant conversation.

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Piano 23: Brower Park

  • So the day after I met the adorable Chinese kids at the Flushing Town Hall piano, I met these adorable Jewish kids in Brower Park.
  • I really think the combination of the kids and the wonderfully cartoony piano made this a very happy piano location for me!

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Piano 24: Fort Greene Park

  • Absolutely dying in this heat and humidity.
  • Tried walking through the park to the piano location, but it turned out there was construction and part of the park was closed off. I made a daring leap off of a high wall on the side to save myself the hassle of walking all the way back and around.
  • I had already performed the two new Études and the Graceful Ghost Rag with varying degrees of success several times that day, so I resolved to perform all five Chopin Preludes that I had recently learned (1, 2, 3, 4, and 7) and at least the beginning of the Brahms-Paganini.
  • There was a man playing pop songs and Fur Elise with a lot of people gathered around him, so I waited a while until he was done.
  • I performed the 5 Preludes and the beginning of the Brahms-Paganini quite successfully, just as planned. People were nice enough to take pictures as usual and some were very appreciative, saying that I played beautifully.
  • One man took a two pictures of my hands before he left on his own phone and then sent them to me as well. One of them is visible above, and the other became a Sing for Hope Pianos Photo of the Day!


  • After the people watching left, I decided to try and sing Stars again even though nobody was around. I finally felt like my voice was resonant and I actually felt very happy with the performance.
  • As I was leaving, a man – presumably crazy – came to me and yelled profanities at me, telling me to take my bullsh*t somewhere else. He seemed like he wasn’t in full control of his senses. I am proud to say that I was secure enough in my abilities that I wasn’t negatively affected by this unexpected outburst.
  • The man left, but I stayed for a little while, wondering if he was going to come back and hoping that no children were around. I didn’t want him to be a danger to anyone else. When it seemed like he was really gone, I decided to return to the DUMBO archway, where the piano had been unavailable on the very first day of this piano adventure!

The Sing for Hope Pianos, Part 3

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Piano 10: Central Park – Literary Walk

  •  Monday, June 8th (continued): Quiet and beautiful here. Many people are interested in this piano and they keep coming up one after another.
  • Someone plays a few pop songs. Although he isn’t a very advanced pianist, a bunch of people notice, stop, and smile.
  • Little girl shows up with her mom. Even though she doesn’t know how to play, she sings “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” while joyfully plunking around freely on the piano.
  • Little boy shows up and watches the little girl with a critical eye. The boy then takes his own turn plunking around!
  • Everyone gets so much joy out of just the simple act of touching and hearing the piano! I think it is an important reminder for me: I must always remember my childlike wonder about the instrument.
  • I see as a kaleidoscopic blur over the next 15 minutes: A man, the little brother of the little girl from earlier, a young couple, another young couple, a group of girls / women, an old couple, a group of high schoolers, a young man… All of them play something and all of them have something to offer. How wonderful to see so much enthusiasm for music and for the piano!
  • I performed for a while and I received very warm applause.
  • A little later, two girls (probably in college or just out of college) – Miriam and Vilde – approached me and told me how moved they were by my playing. One said that she had tears in her eyes. Miriam also told me later that the other people listening also commented on how beautiful it was. It’s times like those that really make the endless hours of practicing all worth it. I’m so thankful that my playing can touch the hearts of my listeners.

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Piano 11: Central Park – Glade Arch

  • Very different from the other Central Park location – very quiet and secluded.
  • Two guys – Steve and Todd – were playing when I arrived. Steve said he had been playing there on and off for a few hours and no one had bothered them!
  • A third guy also named David showed up after we talked briefly.
  • Steve was nice enough to record my Castle in the Sky arrangement for me. It wasn’t perfect, but I got a surprisingly decent full take that I will post on YouTube sometime soon.
  • David recorded Chopin’s Ocean Étude (Op. 25 No. 12) for me and I was able to post a clip onto my Facebook page.
  • Everyone was enthusiastic about my playing and other people around this quiet area also clapped following the performances.
  • Todd was asking whether I wanted to collaborate at a later point in some sort of jam session, but since I wanted to explore all the pianos, I had to politely decline.

By the way, I also have a clip of Chopin Étude Op. 10 No. 1 recorded at Piano #1 (Astor Place). I just didn’t think to link to it at the time.

I tried going to Marcus Garvey Park but unfortunately the piano was already closed for the day. I took the train to Westchester where I would stay Monday night into Wednesday morning in order to teach and spend time with my dad.

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Piano 12: Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

  • Wednesday, June 9th: I had the idea to travel around to the hard-to-reach locations in the Bronx with my dad as a fun father-son trip. He very graciously agreed to drive me around.
  • The museum was closed and we had to go around to the back, stepping around the stuff some of the staff were setting up.
  • I felt that I “officially” performed William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag and Chopin Étude Op. 10 No. 5 “Black Key” for the first time. They actually went fairly well (probably because nobody was listening but my dad!). My dad recorded the Chopin Étude and I put a clip of this onto my Facebook page as well. I’m very pleased that I was able to get a good clip of a NEW piece. And the character of the piece fit this cheerful piano very well!

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Piano 13: Poe Park Visitor’s Center

  • It’s hard to drive around in the Bronx. I was trying to act as a responsible navigator for my dad, but I think I was responsible for getting us slightly lost and confused several times. We actually thought that this location was the Owen Dolen Golden Age Center (another piano location) at the time… More on this later…
  • Even though this piano is right out on the sidewalk, we actually had to sign in at the visitor’s center first because we approached from inside the park. I guess if we had just been passing by on the sidewalk, we wouldn’t have had to sign in…?
  • Two or three keys on this piano didn’t work, but I love how it says “ANYONE CAN PLAY”!
  • I played the first movement of the Janáček Sonata and the first two pieces of Brahms Op. 118. The security guard came out and asked to record some of my playing.
  • A guitarist – probably in his 30’s – stopped to talk to me and he seemed enthusiastic about my playing.
  • A woman perhaps in her 40’s asked me for a brief piano lesson. She didn’t speak much English, but I tried to teach her some of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. She said she went to play the piano there every day!

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Piano 14: Williamsbridge Oval Community Center

  • Kind of hidden away in front of the center.
  • I performed the Graceful Ghost Rag and the Black Key Étude again. I then performed Chopin Étude Op. 10 No. 8 for the first time. My dad recorded Op. 10 No. 8 and I will probably put up a clip sometime soon.
  • Met woman named Diana who really liked my playing.
  • Played Brahms Op. 118 No. 3 while my dad was finishing up work on his laptop.
  • Two kids came over and said, “Play that piano!!”

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Piano 15: Van Cortlandt House Museum

  • Interesting journey to reach this piano! We passed a bizarre sculpture that I honestly cannot explain.
  • The piano was located on the back porch of the museum next to the garden. Nobody was around this highly secluded location.
  • I performed the last three pieces of Brahms Op. 118 (4, 5, and 6).

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Piano 16: Inwood Hill Park

  • Way up in northernmost Manhattan is Inwood Hill Park. I remind myself that I must return to many of these beautiful locations and properly explore them in the future, especially because a lot of these parks are so massive.
  • Arrived to find a kid banging the heck out of the keys.
  • Three of the keys on this piano didn’t work at all, and the keys had an unusual “metallic” feeling because of the paint.
  • My dad recorded me playing Chopin Étude Op. 10 No. 4 and I posted a clip onto my Facebook page later. People received my playing warmly at this location.

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Piano 17: Owen Dolen Golden Age Center

  • Because I am extremely stupid, I somehow had mixed up the addresses of this piano and the one at Poe Park (Piano #13). So we actually RETURNED to the Poe Park one first and became very confused. I truly could not figure out how we had managed to go to the same location twice without noticing. And it was a fair distance too… Eventually we managed to finally find ourselves here…
  • I know I haven’t talked much about the appearances of the pianos themselves, but that’s because you can already see them from the pictures. I really think it’s amazing how each piano has its own character and personality – not only in its sound but in its appearance. I am so grateful to the artists who lent their time and talents to painting to the pianos.
  • I love the animals and the colors on this piano but it was unfortunately quite quiet and out of tune.
  • Someone congratulates me on my playing as we leave this location.

My next post will start with the piano at Flushing Town Hall, a piano in very poor condition that nevertheless attracts the talents of adorable children.

The Sing for Hope Pianos, Part 2


Piano 4: Coney Island

  • Saturday, June 6th: After teaching piano all day, this is the only piano I was able to get to.
  • At 7 pm I found someone playing the piano. The party music on the boardwalk was so loud that you couldn’t hear the piano from even a short distance away.
  • 7:30pm – After a quick dinner, some kids were having a great time banging away on the keys despite not knowing anything about piano!
  • 8pm – Ended up playing this piano and hanging around it for about an hour. It sort of didn’t feel like a real performance since the music around me was so loud. I played seven Chopin Études (two of which are new), Godowsky’s arrangement of Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude for left hand alone, the beginning of the Brahms-Paganini Variations, Op. 35, Book 1, and my own arrangement of the main theme from Hayao Miyazaki’s film Castle in the Sky (composed by Joe Hisaishi). The new Études and Brahms-Paganini were not so successful, but I thought it was good practice.
  • Met a wonderful woman named Gaye. We talked for a long time about many topics and it seemed like we were old friends after just a little while. And since my voice was starting to recover, we also sung some songs from Les Misérables together.
  • Met an older woman who sung along passionately with the Revolutionary Étude and talked about how she had taken piano lessons in the 1940’s!
  • Met three girls who got along with me and Gaye very well! One girl tried teaching another girl “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in the following manner: “NOOOO!! That’s wrong! Like THIS!!!”

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Piano 5: Tribeca Park

  • Sunday, June 6th: After teaching again all day, I got to this piano around 6:30 PM. Nobody was playing!
  • For more information about the giant head in the background, click here.
  • I performed William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag for the first time, which was sort of successful.
  • Met this really nice woman from Germany named Ann who wrote about me in her blog. She says she really loves meeting people. Although she didn’t exactly quote me correctly, apparently I am “the master of piano”. I find this hilarious.
  • Little girl shows up and plays Ode to Joy really confidently, solidly, and enthusiastically. I talked to her father and told him what a natural performer she was!
  • People applauded and reacted warmly at this location.

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Piano 6: Little Red Square

  • I sit for a while, watch, and listen. This is what I experience: A group of people in their 20’s gathered around someone playing simple rock grooves ~ They start singing an Adele song ~ Another guy plays piano arrangements of various pop songs passionately ~ Then he plays classical music HORRIBLY ~ Another guy shows up and plays some pretty amazing swing ~ A random older man shows up and starts singing along with some old standard that the guy is playing ~ The guy’s girlfriend plays a pop song while still standing, then a tidbit of Für Elise ~ They start playing this great duet where the girl is playing chopsticks and the guy is harmonizing it in all kinds of funky ways ~ I wait for a moment after they leave ~ The woman who was sitting near me just listening almost this entire time suddenly goes over and just plays the piano like a small child, smashing around the keys and clearly having a blast!
  • I realize that you never know who plays the piano and who doesn’t. Who is a professional? An amateur? A music lover who doesn’t know the first thing about playing piano? Who is a classical, jazz, rock, funk, pop pianist? What do they look like? How old are they? Where are they from? Is there any way to predict it…? There isn’t! There really, truly isn’t! And that is a very beautiful thing.
  • How many people secretly enjoy some of the music they hear from these Sing for Hope Pianos, but don’t say anything, as I sometimes do? We should assume we are always being heard, that we are always touching the hearts, however subtly, of those all around us.
  • I play the piano for a little while, a few people express their appreciation, and the day draws to a philosophical close.


Piano 7: Herald Square

  • Monday, June 8th: I start exploring around 2:45 PM since it was raining lightly earlier today.
  • Met jazz pianist in his 50’s named Sam who called me a “monster” after he heard me play and seemed to like me quite a lot.
  • Several people clapped after I performed the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. Had the special challenge of having to talk to Sam briefly while playing, but I didn’t have to stop.


Piano 8: Times Square

  • I was studying my score and doing mental practicing a short distance away from the piano location when someone actually approached me and asked me what piece I was studying. His name was Neil and he had just graduated with an undergraduate degree in engineering. We walked over to the Times Square piano together.
  • This time I didn’t see Batman. Instead, I saw something terrible – a missing black key! Somehow someone had broken it clean off in the few days since I had seen it last. I think the only way to deal with this issue is to imagine the missing black key as a white key shortly before you approach this area of the piano each and every time. Very distracting and disorienting! I also really didn’t want to get a splinter…
  • I nevertheless still played the piano a little bit and two people sitting in the little plaza thanked me as I was leaving.

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Piano 9: Lincoln Center

  • The first grand piano I got to play on, a nice Yamaha! In much better condition than any of the other pianos that I had played.
  • Somehow I managed to play pretty well on this piano. An older couple in their 70’s or 80’s talked to me afterwards and were really appreciative. I was really happy that I was able to make them so happy.

I hope to put up the next post very soon. It will continue with the Central Park pianos!

The Sing for Hope Pianos, Part 1

This series of posts will chronicle my personal adventures with the Sing for Hope Pianos, which are available from Friday, June 5th to Sunday, June 21st. The description on the About page for this project reads:

The Sing for Hope Pianos places vibrantly colored pianos throughout NYC’s parks and public spaces for anyone and everyone to play. For two weeks, the pianos — each a unique art piece created by a different artist or designer — host impromptu concerts by professionals and amateurs alike in an open festival of music for all of New York City.

After their two weeks on the streets, Sing for Hope donates the instruments to NYC schools, healthcare facilities, and community organizations in need, allowing the pianos to enrich lives for years to come.

Sing for Hope is really a wonderful organization that truly embodies the idea of “Art for All”. This Pianos event happens at most once a year, and for the first time I am seeking out these pianos in order to share my music, take advantage of these many incredible performance opportunities, and have a lot of fun along the way! I don’t have set times or places to perform. Instead, I simply explore freely after I physically practice at my own piano in the morning. My goals are:

  • Perform all of the pieces currently in my repertoire around once a day on the pianos.
  • Perform new pieces for the first time as often as possible.
  • Do a lot of mental practicing for both reviewing old pieces and learning new pieces as I am traveling around all day.
  • Get some recordings out of all these performances.
  • Meet new people, explore new areas, and adventure as much as I can while playing as many of the pianos as possible!


Piano 1: Astor Place

  • Friday, June 5th, 7am: I’m sure I was one of the first to play on a Sing for Hope piano. The pianos were not formally available until 10am, but I happened to be there early and I got to play on this one a bit before it was used for some sort of morning TV program. So exhilarating to be playing outdoors!
  • Came back around 9:30am with my friend Lauren and performed Chopin Étude Op. 10 No. 1 and Op. 25 No. 12 (“Ocean”). Lauren recorded a short clip of the first Étude.
  • Not many people around
  • Had to stop because it started to rain

Sadly, the rain continued for a while and then tarps were placed over the pianos for a while to protect them. I had also hoped to play and sing at these pianos at some point, but I was getting sick and beginning to lose my voice. I was trying to drink lots of tea and not talk much so that hopefully I could recover faster. Even when the sun came out, the tarps were rather slow to come off. I mentally practiced my pieces in various tea places with Lauren before finally:


Piano 2: Castle Clinton National Monument (Battery Park)

  • 4:50pm: Yes, it took forever to finally find a piano that was open and available to play!
  • Somehow we got really lost trying to find this one
  • Performed Bach-Busoni Chaconne and the person waiting to perform after me seemed to really like my playing
  • Keys were sticking and one key didn’t work at all! Very quiet piano with almost no tone
  • Left somehow unsatisfied – Was it because of the performance? The piano? I started to realize that performing in all of these unknown conditions on many different pianos with all different distractions would be excellent training.
  • It’s also a really good chance to practice performing to the best of my ability without being fixated on my own ego or factors that I cannot control!

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Piano 3: Brooklyn Bridge Park (DUMBO)

  • Continued on to this piano on my own since Lauren had to go home
  • Of course got horribly lost in the process
  • Beautiful location by the water!
  • Wedding guests were here when I first showed up. Some of the guests and their kids were happily playing the piano. A boy of perhaps 11 or 12 climbs on top of the piano and lies there. He then proceeds to step with his full weight ON THE KEYS as he is disembarking. When he tries to step onto the little bench from the keys, he has the most fantastic fall onto the ground. Instant karma, ladies and gentlemen (he was not injured)!
  • Met this self-taught pianist named Dennis who played with a surprisingly good technique. He’s the one that took the pictures for me.
  • Performed a few Études and some nearby people applauded

Other Adventures

  • Journeyed with another newfound friend named Alex to the DUMBO archway nearby, but unfortunately there was a party going on with loud music and I couldn’t play the piano there… My phone was also almost dead.
  • Went to Herald Square to find an old man (perhaps in his 70’s?) playing jazz very enthusiastically and singing along loudly. He was definitely hogging the piano, but it was really refreshing to see someone who obviously loved sharing music so much.
  • At Times Square, I heard quite a few jazz pianists and one pianist who played some great Latin jazz. These were some pretty serious musicians. I also saw this hilarious scene:

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  • Elmo shows up and plays a delightfully horrible duet with this really great jazz pianist. The guy responds by playing the Sesame Street theme.
  • Minnie Mouse shows up and he quotes the Mickey Mouse song.
  • Then Batman shows up and I hear the Batman theme.

How fantastic is that?