Public pianos ‘make a joyful noise’ in region, bringing a culture of street art to city, suburbs - The Buffalo News

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Public pianos ‘make a joyful noise’ in region, bringing a culture of street art to city, suburbs

It’s easier than ever to try your hand – or hands – at piano playing.

There’s no need to go to a fancy concert hall. Actually, you don’t even need to be indoors.

Senior citizens in Amherst and elsewhere can now tickle the ivories with the wind blowing through their hair, thanks to a creative new project by a Buffalo musician.

Called “Pianos in Public Buffalo,” volunteers from the program take old pianos, paint them into works of art and place them where people least expect it.

One sits dockside at the Buffalo waterfront. Another attracts pedestrians in Larkinville. And one more was shipped out to Darien Lake for the Kingdom Bound festival.

Amherst, though, is the only suburb to get a public piano – and not just one, but two.

One sits at the Amherst Center for Senior Services, 370 Audubon Pkwy., and the other at the Montgomery Park retirement home, 6363 Transit Road, East Amherst.

The piano at the senior center was painted by senior volunteers with an eclectic design that beckons passersby to “Make a joyful noise.”

Drawing attention to the funky piano has been the easy part – it’s hard to miss when you walk through the senior center’s main entrance.

Getting people to understand they can actually play it? That was more difficult.

“People were looking at it and they were like, 'Oh, that’s nice, is it wet paint?’” said Mave Milligan, spokeswoman for the senior center. “We actually had to change the sign on it to say, ‘Play me.’ ”

The reaction since then?

“They love it,” Milligan said of the seniors.

The idea came to be when Mark Weber, a Buffalo writer and musician, realized Buffalo had a lot less street art than New York City, where he used to live.

He would often see pianos here in retirement homes, locked up or with “Do Not Play” signs attached to them.

Then he watched a video of people destroying old pianos because no one could find any use for them.

“I thought, what a shame a family heirloom has to be like this,” Weber said.

Weber started painting the pianos with a few volunteers and asked organizations including Canalside and others whether they wanted them.

He wasn’t surprised at what he discovered.

“If they’re old and brown and sitting there, people could care less,” he said. “If you paint them with funky colors and shove them outdoors, people can’t get enough of them.”

As the first few hundred people began banging away at the piano keys, Weber’s phone began ringing around the clock with people wanting to help out.

“Everyone has a piano they don’t want,” he said. “Literally tomorrow I could get 50 pianos given to me.”

Weber hopes the seniors in Amherst and others throughout the region will get some pleasure from the pianos – and perhaps a little inspiration, too.

“Buffalo’s a lot like an old piano,” he said. “It’s a little out of tune, but with a little paint and seen in the right way, people might say, ‘Wow, it’s not as bad as I thought. It’s actually really great.’ ”

More information on the pianos can be found at


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