Have you ever spotted beautiful pianos down by the waterfront or up on top of Portland at Mount Tabor? You may have even spotted them at Holocene events – most recently a piano with an LED screen that lit up as people played at the Tin House release show. Provided by the people of Piano Push Play, these repurposed pianos are open to be played by the public to create tiny, magical, musical moments. We chatted with founder Megan McGeorge about her own history with music, past and present, and her desire to invite everyone to interact, open up, and learn around the communal space of a piano. Follow this map and discover some beautiful pianos!
When did Piano Push Play begin? How did it it start?
Piano Push Play (PPP) began in 2012. I walked out of AL’s Den one night and saw a cello player on the corner of 13th and Burnside and turned to my friends and said…I want to do that. But I’m a piano player…it’s a little harder than bringing out a cello or guitar. Months went by and I couldn’t stop thinking of the idea. I realized there was a piano store just a few blocks away. I went in and started making friends and asking questions….do they let piano outside, what’s that cost etc. and finally I came out with it. I wanna give a concert on that street corner…..They were wonderful from the beginning, they said we love it, we’ll mount a piano for you on a dolly and whenever you want you can wheel it up the street and play for people. Hence our name: Piano. Push. Play.
Personally, what is your relationship with pianos?
It was my first instrument. I started lessons at 5. It had been my great-grandmother’s piano. My parents still have it. I learned later in life, once I had been doing this for years that she went around army hospitals during WWII playing for soldiers as an early form of music therapy. This kind of outreach is in my blood I guess.
What was the first ‘Piano Push Play’ piano? Who designed it, and what is that process like?
The first year I pushed that piano out to the street corner it wasn’t painted at all. I had my friend design us a poster and we would tape the posters to the side of the piano for the 3 hours we’d wheel it outside. The next year I got 5 pianos together and it was my friend and housemates that painted them….in addition to me spray-painting and stenciling them with the simple message: please play me. My lovely friend and housemate Sam Romero painted the lettering on our first painted piano placed in our original location (13th and Burnside).
What other interactive or situational art have you been inspired by?
I have been a fan of Jeanne-Claude and Christo for many years. They do incredible work- super large scale projects that are alive for weeks at a time and then gone.
Ephemeral work is powerful work to me. I feel that’s something similar to these pianos….they are there for a few weeks and then they move on. Placing these pianos help folks view their environment in a new way. Instead of the usual street corner….it’s now a living room/stage/meeting place.
And then it’s gone.
I’m also a fan of how they worked….always raising private money for their projects through selling renderings based on what they were going to do. They had more freedom to do exactly what they wanted to do when they were not taking money from, institutions/grants/state agencies.
We joked that that’s what we were going for last weekend – wrapping: all the pianos up in the rain. The Jeanne-Claude+Christo version of PPP.
What are some of the most spectacular encounters you’ve seen people have with the pianos?
I remember we had placed a piano on the bus mall last summer and not even 5 minutes into it being there this group of boys are skateboarding down the street and one of them hops off and goes up to the piano and starts playing Fur Elise….which I LOVED. Unexpected interactions happening between strangers, houseless folks sitting down and performing Bach or a completely beautiful original piece of music on the spot are really powerful for me and others. I love sitting back in a corner and just watching things unfold. The people walking by that stop to listen, to take a photo, to be taken out of the EVERYDAY. That’s really what makes my heart swell.
You are a musician, playing in bands like Ancient Heat and under the moniker LEO and now Megan Diana, what is next for your personal music?
I’m releasing an EP at the end of this summer….We just wrapped up a video for one of the songs off that and I’m so incredibly excited to share it soon…I’ll also be scoring a full length film, a first for me after doing lots of writing for short commercial projects.
Tell us about your favorite time playing at Holocene!
Playing at Holocene with Ancient Heat was always an incredible dance party and so much fun because all the folks in that group are a blast and lovely folks.
BUT I played one evening this year where I was playing solo for the first time since playing with my band for the past year. The sound was incredible and I could hear everything I was doing/playing/singing and could feel how closely people were listening to my songs/stories. I want that connection with the audience and I could feel it greater at that moment than I had in a long time and it was wonderful.