Art Prize 2010 has been one of the best things to happen to Western Michigan in a long time. It was good news and good times in the midst of a state that has held the dubious honor of being at the top of the list for unemployment in the United States. Grand Rapids is the second largest city in the state and I have the pleasure of living a mere 20 minutes from its heart.
In the midst of paintings, drawings, sculptures and creativity in an array to astonish and captivate the mind, “Play Me, I’m Yours” street pianos popped up all over town. Yes, pianos. Seventeen of them scattered around the city. Brightly painted, they were there for anyone to play. My son and I spent an afternoon in the city and we determined that we would play every one that we saw. We had rehearsed a little duet called “Boogie on Broadway” – only slightly rehearsed, mind you – and we would play the pianos until we found the one that wasn’t broken. In other words, the one on which we finally got our little duet right. Here are five of the six pianos that we played.
As varied as the art work itself were the people playing the pianos. Mamas holding their babies as they helped them plunk a few notes with one finger while papa took a picture. Little kids plunking with all ten fingers. Older kids playing Chopsticks. Young people like my son who has taken a couple of years of lessons and makes a good showing. There was the guy who got arrested. The guy picks the piano in front of the police station and plays a single note over and over, to the great annoyance of the cops. He has a warrant on him for felony burglary. One of the annoyed cops recognizes that the guy has “paper” on him, checks it out and arrests the dude. There are 17 pianos to choose from and he picks the one in front of the police station and he can’t even play Chopsticks!? Give the dude the “DUH” Award and some piano lessons while he’s in jail. And, then, there was this man.
David and I stopped to listen to three of his songs but did not ask him his name. He was masterfully accomplished at jazz and classical alike. These were the people we were looking for, the people who knew what they were doing with 88 keys.
While strolling down Monroe in search of ice cream, we heard another great performance happening on the piano in front of the infamous police station. Not only was he playing but there were a couple of ladies standing very close to him, heads bent low. I knew they were listening to words, as well. We crossed the street and, indeed, the gentleman was singing. It was a beautifully melodic song with the hook “since you been gone.” The lyrics were poetic and well crafted (and, yes, I’m a lyrical snob). By the end of the song, I was moved to tears.
I spoke with Michael Matthews and, as I suspected, the song was his own composition. He was not interested in producing and marketing the song. He spoke of keeping his life simple to remain available for the Lord’s work. We agreed that simplicity is tough in this complicated world. Pursuing a music career does not a simple life make. At least that’s what Mr. Matthews and I both thought.
Without a mic to elevate his voice over the piano accompaniment, I don’t know if Michael Matthews could actually sing his own song and get past Piers Morgan. It would not be for me to say. Mr. Matthews’ vote was for Keith Urban to sing his song. I don’t know about that either. I do know is that there are a lot of people out there that know how to play the piano, one that we met has composed a really good song and Grand Rapids showed her talent on the street pianos on some beautiful days during Art Prize.
Oh, and by the way, the two pianos on the left in the collage at the top of the post are the ones that weren’t “broken”… Took us all afternoon to finally find them…