A brightly painted piano in downtown Seymour is getting a lot of attention.

From children who have never touched a piano’s keys to adults who have played for years, the instrument is bringing the community together in a way in which only music can, Shawn Malone said.

The idea for the public piano came from a video Malone saw posted on Facebook. That video showed a homeless man in Florida sitting down at a public street piano and drawing a crowd with his musical talent.

Malone, who owns Brooklyn Pizza Co. in Seymour, thought having an outdoor piano in a public location was a good idea but didn’t know if anyone else would feel the same way or if anyone would even use one here.

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He mentioned the idea on Facebook; and soon, friend and fellow small-business owner Matt Nicholson was on board. Nicholson, who owns and operates B2 Bikes and Boards, also thought it sounded interesting.

The discussion on Facebook led to another friend, Tara Johnson, offering to donate a piano.

“It was actually given to me by a friend and had been sitting in my house collecting dust for years,” she said of the piano.

“I thought it sounded like a great way for it to get some use.”

With no money needed for the project, Malone and Nicholson set up a meeting with Seymour Parks and Recreation Department officials to see if it would be possible to place the piano downtown at One Chamber Square next to the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce building.

The city approved, and the piano was installed under the canopy-like umbrellas Saturday for anyone to use.

There are even a couple of beginner piano books sitting there, too.

“It had some coverage from the weather, and it’s a spot Matt and I would like to see get more use,” Malone said of One Chamber Square.

To make the piano stand out, it was painted purple with some colorful accents by Beautiful Chaos, a downtown store specializing in painting and refurbishing furniture.

Malone said that in just a few days more than a dozen people have stopped by to play the piano. A public dedication will be from 5 to 7 p.m. today.

“People love it, and I love it,” Malone said. “I’m excited about the immediate, positive response.”

‘Universal’

Although he doesn’t play the piano himself, Malone has a passion for music and likes to share his interest with friends, family and customers. This summer, he opened Harmony Park, an outdoor venue for free live music next to his pizza place on West Second Street.

He said the piano is just another way to share his passion for music and help spark more interest in Seymour.

“Music is universal,” he said. “People disagree on a lot of things, but almost everyone loves music.”

Local musician Lom Win has tried out the piano and said he plans to play frequently.

“A street or community piano automatically gives the passer-by permission to touch and play. That freedom of expression is why it has become so popular,” he said.

Win said the piano also shows a love and desire for more music and art in the community.

“I am happy that this little piano is creating such a buzz,” he said.

“It means that Seymour is aching for such artful expression. We certainly could use more of it.”

Although best known as a singer and guitar player, Win also enjoys tickling the ivories from time to time.

“The piano is a beautiful machine, built to send pleasing tones out into the air where the listener can absorb it in their minds and hearts,” he said. “Music is alive in our souls, and the instrument is just the vehicle.”

As a performer, Win said, it’s nice to have a public space to play and be heard.

“Musical energy is shared best with an audience,” he said.

Love of music

Malone said it’s important for people to realize that it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to make a positive change in the community.

“We don’t always need a ton of money to promote community involvement,” he said, “basically, a few small-business owners showing you can make a difference by just doing something.”

In order to gauge interest and use of the piano, Malone said people can take pictures of themselves or others playing it and post it to Twitter or Facebook with #seymourstreetpiano.

Malone said he had hoped the piano would be a big hit, but even he is surprised by the reaction it’s getting.

“It’s what I’ve always known, though, people love music,” he said. “Whether you can play it or not, music is an attraction.”

Sharon Barnett, a classroom instructional assistant at Seymour Middle School Sixth Grade Center, has played the piano.

“I leave home each morning at 5:45 and walk three miles, and that trek includes going past that spot,” she said of One Chamber Square. “There was not one soul around, so I just decided to try it out.”

Barnett said she played “Harvest Moon” and “For He is So Precious to Me.”

She has given piano lessons for years and said she may use the public piano as a way to show off her students’ talents.

“I’m thinking if the timing is right and a student learns a song exceptionally well, I may propose that we motor to the public piano and let the student play it for the world to hear,” she said. “I think many kids would think that was great fun.”

More songs

Danielle Spurgeon has played the piano most of her life and now gives lessons at This Old Guitar Specialty Music Store in downtown Seymour. She recently brought her friend and student, Lucy Horton, 9, over to play the piano.

“I had never heard of a public piano before, but I think it’s a great idea,” Spurgeon said. “It’s getting more people to stop downtown to check it out, and it might strike a chord with someone interested in learning how to play.”

Malone said he knows there are problems that will arise, including keeping the piano in tune, weather and vandalism. But he’s not letting that get in the way.

“We have concerns, sure, but we never let that slow the idea down,” he said. “We believe the folks who share our love of music will help keep an eye on it.”

The piano will remain at One Chamber Square through September and then will be stored for the winter.

But Malone said the location is just a starting place, and in the future, the piano might be moved to a different site.

No matter what happens now, Malone said, the piano has already been a success.

“If you make instruments available, they will get used, and there will be joy to share,” he said. “I like a quote from the Grateful Dead, ‘Let there be songs to fill the air.’”

If you go

What: Dedication of Seymour’s public piano

Where: One Chamber Square in downtown Seymour at St. Louis Avenue and Chestnut Street

When: 5 to 7 p.m. today

Who: Anyone is welcome to come see and play the piano at that time or just listen.

Pull Quote

“A street or community piano automatically gives the passer-by permission to touch and play. That freedom of expression is why it has become so popular.”

Local musician Lom Win, on a public piano available in downtown Seymour

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.