Play Me, I’m Yours

4 Jul

A few weeks ago while listening to the radio I caught the second half of an NPR story on the New York Play Me, I’m Yours project. Up until today I had forgotten to find out more about it, but I’m glad I remembered to research it a little further. The Play Me, I’m Yours project is a collaboration between Sing for Hope and artist Luke Jerram. 60 pianos were placed throughout New York, each one boasting a unique appearance but all having the words “PLAY ME, I’M YOURS” scrawled across the front. Performers satiate their musical itch while spectators gather to listen and watch unabashedly. At the end of the project the pianos will be donated to schools and community groups in the spirit of the Sing for Hope mission.

There are some parallels that can be drawn between this project and social media. Tara Hunt describes the effect of social media as accelerating serendipity. People publish things about themselves that they wouldn’t necessarily send to an individual person because it isn’t a personalized interaction. Users of social media just “put things out there,” for lack of a better term. They make things known about what they’re doing or what interests them without making anyone else feel obligated to respond. But, seeing as we are highly social beings, we do respond. This increases and encourages interaction that wouldn’t have been possible with a message intended for a specific person or group. Instead of making tweets or status updates readily available to a network of followers or friends, this public piano project made vehicles of music accessible to anyone in the New York state area. By “putting them out there,” people respond by sitting down and playing something to demonstrate their musical prowess, whether it is as advanced as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 or as simple as a few bars from Heart and Soul. The project’s website allows additional interactive opportunities, displaying all the locations of the pianos with the option for participants to post photos and video depicting their experience.
The project also bears similar qualities to a collaborative community. There are no rules set forth about the usage of the pianos. The amount of time each piano-player uses is up to them and those who are waiting for their turn. Anybody walking off the street or into a building where a piano is housed is free to play it. In a state where you usually need a license to perform in public, this creates an additional liberating quality to the social interaction. The freedom this project allows is a lot like the freedom that the Internet gives journalists: anybody and everybody can do what was formally restricted to professionals for free.

I think this project is nothing short of amazing. It really shows how music can bring together the most random of people in the most ordinary of places. I fully believe that music is a social phenomenon, and that without another person or other people to share it with that special, unidentifiable quality it possesses is diminished. Luke Jerram saysthat the success of the project is based on the stories that result from the impromptu musical sessions. “I think it’s the stories that will come out over time — how people have connected, how it’s changed people’s lives, how they think about music and sharing that music,” he said. “There were two people who met over the pianos in Sydney and they just got married.” And that’s a perfect example of accelerated serendipity.


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