In early 2016 , Music In Devon Initiative were approached by Stuart Crewes from Art Week Exeter about a project he thought we may be interested in helping to facilitate. Paula Crutchlow from Blind Ditch was putting together a busking project called Street Lab which would benefit from street pianos for some of its performers. As buskers ourselves, it was something that we were keen for MIDI to be involved in.
We began by seeking the opinion of local piano tuner Tom Gill on the best type of pianos for the job – ‘overstrung, underdamped and not too old’ was the sage advice, and the search began. Aware of an approaching deadline we were not quite able to meet this criteria and ended up with three upright pianos – two German and one English, between 60 and 80 years old, of which only one was overstrung and underdamped!
As each iron-framed piano weighed nearly a tonne, the next part of the job required professional assistance in the form of John Cooper, a local expert piano mover. Together with his loyal and sturdy assistant Brian (nicknamed Obelisk) they managaed to get all 3 pianos to our hastily arranged piano modification space, kindly donated by Dave Adcock of Exeter City Council at the Customs House down on Exeter Quay.
The next step was to get the pianos painted. For this we enlisted the help of local artists. Cleo Jones of Miss C’s Grafitti Academy ran a workshop with young people from Exeter Foyer – a supported housing project for young people – to achieve this spectacular job on piano#1.
For piano#2 we asked artist Sissy Lange who produced this amazing piece of work.
Aisha Hall and Gala Hills from the band Metronomic Underground decorated a snappy looking piano #3 – mind your toes!
Once painted, the next job was to remove the old castors and replace with wheels suitable for use outdoors. In order to do this the pianos needed to be laid down flat and a suitably robust area of wood located to host the new wheels. The first set of wheels we tried for the job were 4 inch rubber with a load capacity of 250 kilos each. After a few false starts and splintering old wood, we managed to get four new wheels onto all three pianos and set them upright.
Tom Gill, our piano tuner, then arrived to give the pianos a tune and some general maintenance before we were ready to get them to their respective sites in time for Art Week Exeter. The first locations for the pianos were decided as Exeter Central library, The Boatshed, and the Guildhall shopping centre. On the eve of the event we received a call from the organisers of PRIDE who were in need of a piano for Joss Stone’s performance in Northernhay Gardens the following day. We made the red piano available for her and it did a great job!
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw also made sure he got a pic next to our piano!
The same day Art Week Exeter kicked off, making great use of the pianos – see this from Paula Crutchlow’s Blind Ditch blog –
“So VERY excited… The whole city was alive that week and encountering the street art made that very real for me.”
We had a great time during Art Week Exeter 2017 co-producing Street LAB with Exeter Phoenix and partners Music in Devon Initiative. Bristol-based duo Asthma (Alice Human and Hannah Sullivan) created an anarchic feel outside Central Station and on the High Street with their post-punk aesthetic and loud electric instruments. Alistair Gentry managed to learn how to play a (very small) piano with the help of the public, and Princessin Hans dispensed musical medicine to Exeter residents after a very thorough and nuanced consultation process.
“Unusual, unexpected, completely off-script of the daily experience. So generous of the performers and organisers.”
The pop-up pianos outside Exeter Library, Guildhall Shopping and on Piazza Terracina brought a “magical, atmospheric” feeling to the city, with members of the public sharing their music in a “fun, social and imaginative” interruption to daily life. The pop-up pianos will continue in sites across the city for the rest of the summer featuring in Exeter Street Arts Festival on 26th August.
Read more about Street LAB and see the pianos in action HERE.
At the end of Art Week Exeter, the pianos had proved so popular that we were asked if other venues across the city could ‘host’ a piano. This involved moving pianos again, as well as repairs to the wheels, some of which had buckled under the weight and daily movement indoors overnight.
New sites were agreed over summer at Exeter Central Station, Exeter Tourist Information Centre, Princesshay Shopping Centre, an extended run at Guildhall Shopping Centre, and outside Salt City Surf Shop in Fore Street. Here are some pics of the pianos in action during that period.
The pianos are now coming to an end of their tenure for 2017, and we would like to thank all those who played, painted, tuned and shifted pianos for us!
For next year we are planning to expand the scheme to new areas and make pianos available for hire to festivals and other events. We also hope to see pianos popping up in other towns across Devon.
If you would like to find out about hiring one of our pianos for your business, venue or event, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org