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Free pianos and eager pianists bring smiles to UK’s grim face

Sunday November 17 2019

music

"Play Me, I’m Yours" is a programme initiated by British artist Luke Jerram in 2008 to instal pianos in public spaces. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GERRY LOUGHRAN
By GERRY LOUGHRAN
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Breaking through the tense and gloomy atmosphere that Brexit and a looming general election have cast over Britain today you might hear … the sound of music.

It is probably coming from a train station, where 34 pianos are now available around the country for anyone to use, amateur or professional, classics or pop.

"Play Me, I’m Yours" is a programme initiated by British artist Luke Jerram in 2008 to instal pianos in public spaces.

Since then, some 1,900 street pianos have been placed in 70 cities worldwide. But the concept probably started before that, accidentally in 2006, in the northern English city of Sheffield.

A family moving into a new house could not get their piano up the steps. So the owner attached a sign inviting passers-by to play the piano for free.

The offer was taken up enthusiastically and the instrument became a popular focus of the local community.

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ENJOYMENT

At the busy St Pancras International station in Central London, there are two pianos, one at each end of the main arcade of shops.

Twice a week, Denis Robinson, a retired auditor aged 92, leaves his home in Sutton, south London, and gives a recital on one of them.

“It’s an absolute joy,” he said. “I get an ever-changing appreciative audience.”

It is not only talented amateurs who have taken to tickling the ivories. Sir Elton John donated one of the St Pancras pianos, a Yamaha, in 2016, and gave a public performance.

He inscribed the instrument, “Enjoy this piano. It’s a gift. Love, Elton John.”

In Newcastle upon Tyne’s Central Station, a piano was wrecked one night by a gang of drunks. It was replaced within weeks by supporters of the free music movement.

APPRECIATION

The Labour MP for Hove, Peter Kyle, lobbied for a piano at Brighton Station in the hope that it would “reduce the misery” of time spent by commuters waiting for delayed or cancelled trains.

Accordingly, a Brighton dealer delivered a piano painted in circus-style red and yellow with the words “Please Play Me” emblazoned above the lid.

Whether it is ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor or ‘Chopsticks’, piano music is bringing smiles to the faces of Brits who feel they don’t have too much to be happy about right now.

* * *
When a teacher intervened in a school yard incident, he was punched in the face, sustaining a broken bone.

Stressed and anxious, he did not return to work for a year, then formally left his job.

On various occasions, a woman teacher at a secondary school faced “a torrent of abuse” and threats of violence from pupils and was forced to take time off.

These stories were recounted at a Welsh teachers’ union conference in Newport, which demanded greater support for school staff in the face of growing violence and aggressive behaviour by children.

The secondary school teacher said she believed drink and drug abuse was a factor, and the teacher who quit said of his experience, “There did not seem to be any consequence for the pupils or any support for me. Staff safety is just as important as pupil safety.”

The conference called for posters to be placed in schools warning against threats to staff, as they are in some doctors’ offices and at post office counters.

A Welsh government spokeswoman said local councils and school heads needed to ensure schools were a safe place for all.

* * *
Benjamin Schreiber, 66, was sentenced in 1996 to life without parole for bludgeoning a man to death in Iowa.

Some 19 years into his sentence, Schreiber developed septic poisoning as a result of kidney stones and his heart stopped briefly before he was revived.

The prisoner then went to court and claimed that his sentence ended when he “died” and therefore he should be released.

A judge described Schreiber’s argument as “original but unpersuasive” since he had signed his own legal documents.

An appeal court declared that his sentence would end when a doctor finally declared him deceased.

* * *
South Tyneside Council wants a crackdown on the “pyjama brigade” to cut air pollution at schools.

The “pyjama brigade” are mothers still in their night attire who drive their children to school at the last minute.

Their idling car engines at the school gates add to the “hugely damaging” pollution, the council said.

* * *
“Haven’t I seen your face before?” the judge asked the defendant. “Yes, Your Honour,” the defendant said hopefully.

“I taught your son piano last winter.” “Ah yes,” said the judge. “Twenty years!”

Kyle had been taking piano lessons for a week when he heard a knock at the door. The man on the doorstep said, “I’m the piano tuner.”

Said Kyle, “I didn’t ask for a piano tuner.” “No,” the man said, “your neighbours did.”

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