Pop-Up Piano Comes to Astor Place


On Astor Place, next to the Mud Coffee truck and across from the 6 train, it can be sometimes hard to hear the person next to you. But artist Jennie Booth wants you to “try to be an ear.” That’s the title of the piano Booth painted in swirling blues purples and greens, which was installed today in that very spot this afternoon as part of Sing for Hope’s Pop-Up Pianos project.

Starting yesterday, four teams spread out all around the city to install the 88 pianos that will serve as public art pieces and spots for concerts, impromptu and scheduled alike, through July 2. The pianos will then donated to places such as schools and hospitals.

At about 1:15 p.m. a small piano sat in front of a 12-foot truck as passersby looked on.

“Let’s go ahead and move this into position guys,” project installation manager Lex Liang called out to the two men stationed on each side of the instrument. They maneuvered it to underneath a tree.

Liang affixed the piano’s bench to its body, and drilled in clasps for locks, one on the top lid of the piano and one on the keys’ covering — the piano’s keys will remain hidden until Saturday morning, the official start of the project. He and another member of his team finished by drilling a blue tarp into the back of the piano. The entire process took less than half an hour.

As Liang worked on the technical aspects of providing for the piano’s safety in its new home — every piano must also have a security block, which Liang said “doesn’t look like much but it’s a hell of a weight” — Booth, an East Village resident herself, watched.

Booth completed the work in four days after coming to the project late, calling it a “gestural poetic piece.” She is not new to public art: she had a cow in the Cow Parade.

The front of the piano features an image of a head morphing into an ear, which eventually becomes the universe. On the right hand side is an illustration of synesthesia, which Booth said she was reading about during the time in which she took on the assignment, and on the left is a representation of singing. Booth explained that she left the top of the piano, where the sheet music would rest, “calm” so that the people who were playing would not be “too overwhelmed.”

“I was thinking abut the idea of listening and the idea of going beyond just listening to becoming the act of listening,” she explained.

On Saturday, Iliana Quander, who stood to the side watching the installation, will go and unlock the piano. Quander is the piano’s “buddy,” and is responsible for opening the piano every day and making sure it is kept good condition. After the project is finished, she said the piano will be donated to her 6 year-old daughter’s school: PS 363, the Neighborhood School in the East Village.

After Liang and his crew left in their car to head to Tompkins Square Park, where they would be installing their next piano, we lingered chatting with Quander and Booth. As the three of us parted ways, Booth called out: “I expect to see both of you playing at playing at my piano.”

“It might not sound good, but I’ll play it,” Quander said.