Pianos in the Parks is a program that puts pianos in the parks—there are 20 of them in Seattle, from now until August 17. Some of the pianos used to be in the practice rooms at the University of Oregon, some came from families who felt this was a good time to let them go, and Classic Pianos donated the rest. Anyone can play them; this week, special guest piano-players include Daniel Blue and Andrew Butler of Motopony tomorrow at Volunteer Park at 5 p.m., and classical pianist Michael Allen Harrison on Friday at Cal Anderson at 10 a.m. and Pier 62/63 at noon.
On my day off, I decided to go downtown and play some ping pong at the tables they've set up in Westlake Park, but I got there too early, and no one was playing yet, so I sat down in one of the yellow metal chairs at one of the blue metal tables and listened to a woman play piano and sing. She went through a few songs while the Falun Gong activists assembled under the square arch; meanwhile, the activists protesting Israel’s offensive began to ebb along Fourth. I didn’t recognize the songs, but they sounded like show tunes, and I wondered if maybe she was rehearsing a role. She gave a spirited performance, but, unamplified, was soon muffled by the surrounding activity. I began playing ping pong with someone and tore a large hole in my pants while gracelessly lunging for a shot. By the time I returned with a new pair, the woman was gone and an activist was playing “Clair de Lune.”
I went back to Westlake Park yesterday morning to remind myself of the color of its piano—pink with yellow splatters. There was a man pacing around and yelling. Intermittently, he launched powerful, angry kicks at the dormant ping pong tables and blue metal tables. I sat down next to the pink piano. The current pianist wore sunglasses and smoked a cigarette. He paused and asked me if I could play, and I said I couldn’t, and he said he couldn’t either, but whatever he was doing to the piano sounded like it could have been used to score a major motion picture. “This is just something I wrote,” he explained. Next to us, the giant chess set was being arranged; people slept on benches under foam insulation. After work, I stopped by again. It was hot. The gyro stand smelled like hot ketchup. A new batch of activists protesting the “school to prison pipeline” had assembled, a chess match between a woman with no shoes and man with a bad sunburn was entering a protracted endgame, and the latest pianist was playing something Yann Tierseny.
These scenes are reconfigured daily. Westlake Park is a whirlpool of pathways and potential interactions. Insert unexpected objects that encourage play and creativity, and you catalyze a social reaction.