Type in #LetMusicFlowQC on Facebook or Twitter and your screen will be filled with photos and videos of Quad-Citians — of all ages and skill levels — playing the same colorful piano.
That’s what the Quad-Cities Community Piano Project looks like, so far.
Since January, the piano, painted by art students at Davenport Central High School, has toured area venues, such as the Quad-City Botanical Center, the River Music Experience and the Putnam Museum. You can now see (and play) the piano at the Figge Art Museum until April 17 before the project ends its run at the Adler Theatre.
The idea comes from the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra, or QCSO, as a way to celebrate its 102nd season, which wraps up with a performance Saturday at the Adler Theatre.
Marc Zyla, a principal horn player and director of education with the symphony, noticed an unused piano sitting around in the QCSO’s offices. And he was inspired to do something with it.
“The symphony plays eight times a year over the course of the year and we’re always looking for ways to engage the community when we’re not playing concerts directly,” Zyla said. “It’s a way to bring music into a space where you can’t take an 80-person orchestra.”
Zyla, who is originally from West Virginia and has performed with QCSO for seven seasons, took a note from street pianos available in others cities. For example, several pianos are scattered around the pedestrian mall in downtown Iowa City.
“We wanted to give the community the means to make music. Wherever it is, people have been playing it,” he said. “It proves to me that people are really supporting and valuing the arts in the Quad-Cities.”
To make the plain piano more inviting, Zyla connected with Kit Sayles, the visual art department chair at Davenport Central. Zyla gave her class one rule — to paint along QCSO's seasonal theme, "Joined By a River."
“We brainstormed lots of ideas of things that remind us of the river,” Sayles said. “We wanted the design to be playful and imaginative, so people would feel comfortable to play.”
The students covered the upright piano with images such as fish, bridges as well as runners and bikers often spotted along the Mississippi River.
“It gives them a lot of pride for them to go somewhere like the Figge and see it," Sayles said. "It’s something they will remember."
Over the past few months, Zyla has heard stories of seasoned pianists preparing pieces to play in public and stories about first-timers spontaneously stopping to attempt a few notes. He's also seen those moments online by searching the designated hashtag #LetMusicFlowQC.
“To see someone’s face light up the first time they touch the piano and hear music come out,” he said, “it’s incredible.”
Over the weekend, during the piano’s last days at Milltown Coffee, a 9-year-old played a few songs, prompting a standing ovation inside the Moline coffee shop.
And that was only one of several “bright moments” spurred by the piano, according to Milltown’s general manager Ben Kuebel.
“If I could keep it here, I would,” Kuebel said. “It brightens people’s days, which goes hand-in-hand with what we try to do here — we want to be a place for people to gather and to come and relax.”
From kids “banging on the keys,” to adults who were curious to see if they “still have it,” Kuebel said the piano was a hit at the coffee house.
“You hear a lot of people say they wish they’d stuck with it and I’m no different,” he said. “It brings back memories for lots of people.”
That also goes for Melissa Mohr, the Figge’s director of education. She started piano lessons when she was 5, but hasn’t played in recent years — until she recently passed by the painted instrument in the lobby of her workplace.
“I sat down and played the first few bars of the Beethoven piece from my senior year recital,” she said. “It’s amazing … when you sit down, your fingers still know where to go.”
The Figge doesn’t house many interactive art pieces, so it's a nice change, Mohr said, to offer visitors something hands-on.
“It very well pulls together multiple types of art and that’s what we’re all about — there’s this intersection of visual arts and fine arts in one piano,” she said. “It awakens a creativity that’s been resting for some time."