Play me: 5,288 keys

Play Me*, I’m Yours is the installation by British artist Luke Jerram. It follows a successful run in London. Jerram gathered 60 used pianos and placed them in parks, plazas and on street corners throughout the five boroughs. Anyone can walk up, sit down and bang out a tune.

This is one of two pianos in Times Square. It was smack dab in the middle on an island on Broadway and 47th Street.


All 60 pianos were painted by volunteers. Each piano has its own distinctive design. One of them was painted by Sophie Matisse, granddaughter of Henri Matisse. (Not this one.) The pianos are protected from theft by being tethered to big cinder blocks. That, and the fact that they’re pianos.


I thought it was going to be a lot of people just plonking away at the keys but most of the people I heard play seemed to be quite accomplished. There were dozens of brief concerts in a wide variety of music styles. For free!


This piano was painted a boring battleship gray. Not very imaginative at all.


But it was in a great location. Right behind the New York Public Library’s stone lion, Patience. (Or is that Fortitude? They all look alike to me.)


The paint job on this one was also nothing to marvel at. They placed it in a playground in Madison Square Park. This piano took a lot of abuse. Many of the kids were playing with their balled-up fists. But what can you expect?


Of the several I saw, this was clearly the most imaginative paint job. It had a great location, too; at the southern end of Times Square.


In what other city can you stumble upon this unlikely pair of strangers—a young Japanese guitar player and an old black piano player—and watch them find their way through a quiet song, all with the warm, summer Times Square night swirling around them? This town is pure magic, I tell you.

* Every time I stumble across one of these pianos and see the exhibit name painted on the side, I get Neil Diamond’s Play Me in my head as an unwanted earworm. This is courtesy of my mother, who played Diamond’s Moods album constantly when I was a kid.

You are the sun
I am the moon
You are the words
I am the tune
Play me