The Community Piano

Today’s guest post comes from Jacque

Several summers ago, probably 2011, but really I am not certain, someone with a community project grant placed a piano on the corner across the street from my office.

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The piano was painted light green with colorful patterns and a small mural. It provided intense community interest and activity, attracting people like a magnet attracts metal. There were players who were accomplished musicians playing a concerto from memory, church organists playing traditional Christian hymns, children playing chopsticks, and cool dudes noodling a bit of ragtime. I could hear music throughout the day. The old piano was tinny and out of tune, suffered relentless sun, and washed by watery downpours if someone did not cover it with the tarp connected to the backside.

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It was a difficult summer for me because I had chosen to continue my business despite a major problem and set back the year before. Re-organizing the business required working many hours as I transitioned to a new bookkeeper, a billing service, recruited some new therapists, and developed the structures the business required. Looking out my office window to the corner where the piano was positioned was a blessed relief to this drudgery.

To my delight, there is a new old piano on the corner again this summer.

This noon as I walked back to the office from eating my lunch, a girl was seated there, just noodling. I don’t know who thought of this idea of community pianos, but to whomever it is, thanks. It brings such a feeling of communal joy. When people are gathered around it like a campfire, listening to someone play or singing along, everyone smiles as they throw themselves into the experience. Though I may not know the name of the folks gathered there, we are part of the community in that musical moment.

We are communing.

We are community.

What gives you a sense of community?

89 thoughts on “The Community Piano”

  1. I love that concept, Jacque. Thanks for this day-brightener and excellent question.

    To my mind, community is built around shared experiences. Some community experiences are lasting, others more fleeting. I think of them as threads that weave together a tapestry where each individual strand is needed for the whole. The more common bonds, the stronger the fabric. If all you have in common is the same zip code and immaculately manicured lawns, to my mind you don’t have much of a sense of community.

    One of the reasons I love the West Side is the numerous and diverse projects and gatherings of the area. We unite around working on public gardens, ethnic celebrations, singing and sharing food and numerous other things. It’s an ever changing landscape of initiatives and support.

    I view myself as part of several different communities. There are neighbors, friends, shared interests groups, and groups with whom I share activities. Of course, there’s often an overlap between them, and often, one will lead to another. It’s an ever-changing dynamic that seeks to connect with others.

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  2. Great reading yesterday and now this morning.

    PJ, I finally have cracked the parking thing for Farmer’s Market.

    Now that I am here, I cannot think what to get ( or rather, not get).

    Community-that’s a tough one as I have spent so much of my life on the fringes. It starts with growing up as the daughter of a minister and teacher in a small town, I suppose, and you get used to being “other”.

    shared appreciations go a long way with me-you can share lots of experiences and interests, but shared appreciation goes beyond that. You know you’ve found your people when you can exclaim, “how wonderful” and have someone else whole-heartedly agree.

    We don’t really fit in our neighborhood, but that is where the house I could buy was built.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel the same way as a mental health professional in a small community, except that now, since we have lived here for 27 years, we are an integral part of the community, but still have to maintain an existence apart from the majority, alway the “other” but an “other woven into the community fabric, sort of like a decorative bead, there in the weave but separated from the threads.

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  3. Columbus Crew matches. These are my people in the Nordecke section of the stadium. The Norwegian sounding name is an added benefit to being an absolute maniac for a few hours. A stereotypical Scandahoovean {sic} demeanor of not too high/not too low is unacceptable in the Nordecke. It’s high from the start. The response to an opponents goal shall never be a “well-what-are-you-gonna-do” (with accompanying shoulder shrug). We don’t throw things, other than words, at the opposition. “Uff da” is weak and were the proceeding to be transcribed and published, the Nordecke would never win the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature. We do possess the work ethic of Scandinavians. Stomping your feet for 45 straight minutes while balancing a beer in your left hand and a beer in your right, will work up quite the sweat, I tell ya.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. We are moving to the hotel today. The muscle men who will move furniture to the porch and garage arrive at 9:00 am. Therefore, I will be scarce for the remainder of the day.

    I see a grammatical error in A paragraph above. It will bother me all day. I wish I could say it was autocorrect; but no. I threw this together quickly without much editing after finding the piano on the corner Thursday. I am a terrible copy editor because I just don’t see small detail well. So I will not think about he incomplete phrase that my high school English teacher would certainly have noticed. I can see the red ink now!

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  5. A favorite theme, or sub-them, in books is community. I notice it more than most, I suspect. Community is a theme in To Kill a Mockingbird, Staggerford, or most of Hassler’s books, Andy Griffith Show, Northern Exposure, Pickwick Papers, most of the personal narratives I read, the new Father Brown mysteries on PBS, All Creatures Great and Small, and maybe downtown Abbey, but I fell out of love with that show half way through the second episode.
    My second novel, two chapters form completion, morphed itself into a story of community, which was not the plan, but hardly unexpected considering my penchants.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. For me what means community is a range of various kinds of people, especially different personalities, who put aside differences or accept the differences or foibles to work for the common good, by which i do not mean government processes, but the shared benefits of shared lives. Behind it lies the concept of altruism or agape. Community to me means also a range of ages. I do not see how community cannot mean some amount of diversity. Small churches, which I prefer, meet my definition of community, or they die. I find churches today are more corporate structures than communities. I have joined the crowd, walking in and quickly out passing the peace with no sense of the purpose or meaning, Churches quickly lost the purpose of passing the peace, which is about community.
    One of the results of care-giving is the loss of community. I have no community here for that reason and others, much having to do with me reluctance to participate in groups that do not share my sense of community, groups that say to be part of us you must be like us. FM is shown to affect the social part of the brain in some people. I am one of those.
    Last week Sandy fainted in my arms in the kitchen, fortunately. She told me she was light-headed and I grabbed her. I called the ambulance. The same unexplained event that has caused this before. Last night she admitted she frequently is light-headed. So I will have to be by her much of the time, especially when she showers. She said she almost went down in the shower yesterday.

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  7. Husband has always defined himself as a Community Psychologist, someone who understand that the health of individuals can only be understood in the context of the health of their communities. That makes him a good fit in a rural setting and in working with tribes.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Renee used the word “tribe” in the traditional sense – I was thinking as I read that community is finding your “tribe” – those folks who accept you as family even though you may not be kin. The ones who may not always agree with you, who may not look like you, but when you find them, it’s like finding the human equivalent of the comfy sweater that you love even though it has holes in the sleeve and is missing a button. One thing I will dearly miss as Daughter moves into middle school is the community that the school principal crafted and nurtured at her elementary school – it was a true community school. There were certainly parents there that I would likely not socialize with outside of a school event and kids my daughter didn’t get along with, but there was a place for everyone and that, I think, is a rare gem.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. When we had the open house and tour night at the middle school, we all started in the auditorium. Miss S and her core tribe all wound up sitting in a row together (with the parents scattered behind and around). It was a hoot to watch them all, putting their heads together to talk, bouncing a bit in their seats – clearly a posse of pals. She has known these kids since kindergarten, and while a couple of her friends are off to different schools in the fall, the core group will all be there for each other. No matter what happens academically, I know that will be key to Miss S navigating middle school with ease.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. It depends on which community you find yourself. I’ve always found it curious that different geographical communities have such distinctly different character and how individuals seem to find themselves in the community that most closely matches their worldview. Of course, communities gain a certain reputation over time, but that information isn’t always accessible, especially to newcomers to the area. I rather suspect that other factors, such as one’s innate wariness of diversity, as represented by most city neighborhoods and one’s satisfaction with insularity and homogeneity, as suburban and rural communities often typify, are also factors behind same-same community coalescence. It’s interesting to think about communities you know and speculate on how each would react to a public piano. In some communities, it’s hard to imagine a common enough space where you would put such a piano.

    I think the first principal of community is that you have to show up. That means leaving your car at home and taking advantage of opportunities to meet your neighbors, stopping to talk to people you see, and letting yourself be seen around the neighborhood. It helps if you have a dog that needs walking, but you don’t need a dog to take a walk. People are much more comfortable chatting with you if they’ve seen you before, perhaps often. Help people when you can. Admire their dogs, and children, and gardens.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Many commentators have discussed the power of thew shift from the front porch to the back deck in loss of communities. The single best way to reduce crime is for people to get to know each other.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. If that piano were left in my neighborhood, someone would call the city to remove it, which they would and then track down ad fine whoever left it there.
        Yesterday I was part of a discussion among four old people in this apartment building. They were complaining about children and the noise of families. I suspect they would complain about the diversity, but by now we have made it clear that we relish it.
        I told them we are having a party on a Tuesday afternoon, an open house for about 25 people in the community room. Two of them wanted to complain but only rolled their eyes. None of them live near the community room. How old people get old.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. no i mean the community room party.
          didnt you say that you were trying to bring some community to the buildings you live in by calling for get togethers?

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    2. I think your observation about how individual communities would react to a public piano is apt. There are several places in “my” neighborhood where I’m pretty sure it would be welcome.

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      1. Hell, come to think of it, in my neighborhood folks are so friendly that from time to time they put their couches out on the boulevard for neighbors to sit on. What? That’s not why they put them there? Oh, nevermind.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. i do love the people who have that same couch ad put it out on the front porch knowing that the rain and elements will make it last only a little while but for that little while they have a couch to sit on in the great outdoors. ill bet it feels good enough to wish you could wear out a couch a year.
          could we add a little couch next to the little libraries model. i thon it would be interesting to see people just pull up and sit down to read for an hour or two. maybe put a coffee pot on the end of an extension cord. this could be the next great community opportunity. todays newspaper when its done. my mo talks about the guy at her old folks community who get the n y times and has it all read by 10 oclock sunday morning so it can be placed int he community room to share with the others who would like it. she goes ther to read every sunday afternoon just for the times entertainment/arts section

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  10. One of my cousins lives in Columbus, OH, and told us that people from Appalachia who had migrated to Columbus were sometimes referred to “porchers”, a derogatory term, perhaps meaning people who had no where to go and no money to do it with. I think they just understood that you can’t be part of anything if you never look around and become part of the world outside.

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  11. I agree with several comments above – the most satisfying communities for me are the ones where we’re not just alike. There must be some commonality of course, but it’s a place where you can learn from, respect, and appreciate the differences that show up; then there is room for growth.

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  12. One of the most interesting feelings is the surprising realizations that you have been accepted into a community where you assumed you were an outsider. I remember being invited to stay around after the Scholar Coffeehouse closed and just a few friends and musicians would hang out. People (the coffeehouse owners, customers and some musicians) were telling stories and noodling on guitars.

    When we bought our Lake Superior property we were amused and intrigued as we got to know that new community. But it was always clear: we were outsiders. One day my erstwife was making small talk with a local citizen. She asked casually, “So, what does Faye’s husband do?” There was an awkward silence. Then the local person said, “Oh, he’s a sort of . . . farmer.” Oh. He grew marijuana. That wasn’t shocking. Most small rural communities have such a person. What was surprising and pleasing was that we city folks were being trusted with knowledge not shared with everyone. We had been included in the community.

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  13. This question is a bit depressing to me when I reflect on my near-total absence of a community. It seems as though the two primary forms are neighborhood and church. I have neither, although for 30 years I did in my old neighborhood so I know what it feels like.

    The closest I’ve come to a sense of community was five years ago when the news of my cancer brought a dozen angels together to assist me. These wonderful women were mere acquaintances before then. They cleaned the cottage, brought in food, tended the flowers outside, mowed the lawn, drove me to ER and doctor appointments, and so much more. When the reason for coming together had served its purpose, the little tribe disbanded.

    Perhaps I’m overthinking what community is? To me, it’s several people coming together around a shared past/present, having fun together, and being there for one another’s moments of need.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Great topic since today I was part of a small community that sprang up at the vet’s office. They were very busy and due to some emergencies were behind schedule. By the time we left, we knew all about Roscoe, Bo, Betsy, Shadow, Maverick and Noodles. And all their owners too!

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    1. vs, this reminds me of a small community that I enjoyed immensely, the folks who ran dogs in the Minnehaha Off-Leash Park in the middle of the day. It was a shaggy mix of artists, teachers, retirees, waitresses, tv personalities, musicians and historians. Wonderful folks. All people who were actively fond of their dogs.

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  15. I have been involved in a number of groups that might be thought of as communities. However, I get the greatest sense of community from becoming part of the neighborhood where I live. I lived in Clarks Grove for more than 30 years and did get to know many of the people who live there. For various reasons I never felt completely at home in Clarks Grove. Never-the-less, I did make many connections with a wide variety of people there and in my own way was a fairly widely known member of that community.

    I hope to eventually become well connected in our new neighborhood in South Minneapolis. Our next door neighbors are very friendly so I am off to a good start on becoming part of my local community in South Minneapolis. There seems to be a very diverse group of people here, which is good, but I am sure it will take many years to become a widely connected person in our new community.

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    1. In that weird period when I was dating after my divorce, most of the women I dated lived in South Minneapolis. I dated about eight women from that area. (Not a surprise, as I mostly dated liberal women who didn’t have much money!) There are many interesting and goodhearted folks living within walking distance from your new home.

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  16. I have lived in the Mahtowa/Duluth/Cloquet area for most of my life with a venture into the world after college. I have found several communities within each…horses, bookclubs, goats, various clubs, work. When I retired some people asked if I was going to stay in the area. My response is always, why would I leave my communities that support and nurture me? And in the back of my mind is the question of how people do choose to leave their communities to retire somewhere else.

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  17. Great comments all
    I’m out of town
    Meetup.com has been wonderful as a way to meet people and share the enthusiasm of common interest we are there to experience together
    I doventrsprruners
    Tech development where I have interest, business start ups, woodworking , guitar playing. Vegetarian cooking and dining. Book clubs , sports arts and theater
    Kurt Vonnegut made s comment that if we could find groups of people with shared interests anywhere in the world we could feel at home in our current location.
    Internet social meet ups and interactions make this possible
    As much as I hate having a phoned on my person 24/7 that gives you less time alone to do things you would like noodle over, I love the accessibility to wake up interested and start the day enquiring and pursuing various aspects of life and now the way to find people of your tribe to share interests with
    Business school neighborhood kids interests friends political buds
    Religious community all together now

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  18. We are moved to the hotel. The dogs are FREAKED out, but slowly acclimating. Today we finish up and then we meet with the carpenter at 7:00am tomorrow and the real fun begins.

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      1. at least two weeks while the ceilings are repaired (ice dam damage) and floors are replaced (mold from a leaking valve between floors–and I am allergic to mold so cannot be there).

        So as long as we are ripping things up, two more projects….

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  19. Several of us have commented on the way Trail Baboon gives us a cherished community. I have for years ignored the line of gravatar photos that appears right under the question for the day. Those are images representing people who have clicked to show they “like” the article for the day. Now I’ve begun looking at them. Some are from those of us who frequent these pages (PJ and tim are represented today). Some are from people who read the blog of the day and liked it, although they are not contributors. We need to remember that our conversations are monitored by people we don’t know. Clicking on the gravatars lets us read a tiny bit about them,and some are obviously interesting people. Today the gravatars shown there include one by what I take to be a Vietnamese man who appreciates the “999 roses in my life.” I’d like to know more about him and the others who cruise a little on our communal pond. I wish some would speak up and join our community that way, but I appreciate them for passing through and “liking” what we do.

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  20. This post reminded me that there is a piano at the Riverview library branch, about eight blocks from where I live. I walked up there yesterday evening to see if someone had covered the piano in case of rain. Someone did. I will check again this evening. I think the library staff takes care of the piano, but the branch is closed on Sundays, so I’m not sure anyone is responsible for it today. The piano program is called Pianos on Parade.

    There is a piano in Rosedale shopping center. I was there one day last winter when a really good pianist sat down and played an inspired ragtime improvisation for about five minutes, gathered a crowd, took a bow, and left.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This conversation about public pianos reminds me of an episode from The Tobolowsky Files. It’s one of my favorite podcasts. Stephen Tobolowsky is a fabulous storyteller and he has had some riveting experiences. If you haven’t discovered him, you’re in for a treat.
      Anyway, in episode 50, Stephen has an memorable encounter with a semi-public piano and a certain familiar piano player. I won’t spoil it by telling you any more.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the tip, Bill. Had never heard of this. Now I have to squeeze that into my already crammed full schedule. 🙂

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    2. Isn’t it great? I love it that this can happen. These are pianos headed for the junk pile, are getting a second life.

      There is so much hypermedia/oversexualized/garbagey stuff out there about American culture.

      And then there are Pianos on Parade which create a daily sense of community and joy. Not much media hyper focus on that is there? Not sexy enough.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Community is getting a lovely and creative condolence card for the death of a beloved cat from a person you have never met face to face. Thanks, Sherrilee.

    Liked by 4 people

  22. Sandy spent four days at Abbott Northwest a few years ago. It had a piano in the lobby. Periodically a talent person would play it, different people. Never knew if it was planned or people just sat down at it.

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      1. I was going to comment about the piano in the lobby of the Gonda Building at Mayo.
        I would say more often than not someone is playing there.

        And this couple; they really are great!

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  23. An experience with community this afternoon.

    On the boulevard in front of my next door neighbor’s house is a large tree, probably quite old, with a massive trunk. It towers about 70 or 80 feet high. About a year ago I stopped parking my car in front of my house, because the tree has been dropping some good-sized branches when there’s a wind, and I thought it might be better to get in the habit of parking around the corner where the trees are much smaller, just in case.

    Over the past two or three months, there’s been a car frequently parking close to the spot where I used to park, but a little closer to the tree. I made a mental note to see if I could catch the driver and warn him/her. A few weeks ago I noticed a young woman probably of African descent, wearing a hijab, getting out of the car and walking across the street. I thought about going after her, but was a little concerned that she might misunderstand me, if her English wasn’t very good. She might think I was chastising her for parking too close to my house. So I was reluctant to approach her.

    Today I was working in my yard, and I had seen in the weather forecast possible storms tonight, so when she pulled her car to the curb and got out, I figured, Well, this is silly – if she was a white person, I would’ve said something by now. And if there was a big storm tonight and a branch came down on her car, I’d be kicking myself about it. So I waved and went over and talked to her. I needn’t have worried about her language skills. She speaks fluent, if accented, English, and we had a brief and pleasant chat. She agreed that it was probably a good idea to park a little farther away from the tree. She also said she had been seeing lots of “little robins” in my yard. I was a little confused about that, but since there are often fledging birds around the neighborhood, figured there must be a nest somewhere. Then after we had talked a bit, I realized she was talking about rabbits. So either she had confused robins with rabbits, or maybe she was saying “robbits” and I misunderstood.

    “Community” and “communicate” have the same root. Although we don’t always commune or communicate perfectly, we usually figure out how to be a community together.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. A couple of years ago, as I was approaching my truck in the Target parking lot, the van next to it pulled out and, cutting a little too sharply, shattered one of my taillight lenses. The van stopped and a woman wearing a hijab got out, along with several children. She was crying. I went up to her and she expressed how sorry she was. She told me she was having a really bad day, that her mother back in Africa had just died. I told her how sorry I was to hear about her mother and not to worry about the taillight. Then, without really thinking it through, I gave her a hug. I realize, of course, that in her cultural milieu, getting hugged by a strange man just might be wildly inappropriate. If she was mortified, she didn’t show it. And I can’t help but wonder whether, inappropriate or not, we didn’t have a moment of real commonality. I hope so.

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      1. I think community is built whenever we act on our humanity rather than on our preconceived notions of each other. Compassion and empathy go a very long way toward finding common ground.

        Liked by 1 person

  24. These have been very nice entries to read and think about.
    Yes, this blog certainly has become a community to me.
    And theater is all about community; that’s one of my favorite things is the camaraderie that happens there. And one of the things I miss most when coming in strictly as a lighting designer; I’m only there for a week and don’t get to know the cast or crew very well.

    There’s also our literal neighborhood community here in the country. Just as you get neighborhoods in town. It’s changed since I was a kid; I mean less of a feeling of community, but the ‘old folks’… the ‘regulars’, those pillars of the township that are still surviving and go to ‘Mothers and Daughters Club’ yet; they are a community all their own and I feel pretty lucky to be associated with them.

    Had a family picnic Saturday for Mom’s Moms side, The Egglers (descendents of the Kienholz’s Bill) 🙂 and there’s only 4 of the 1st cousins left (my mom being one of them).

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I was hoping that Crowgirl would weigh in on today’s topic. Community spreads like rings in water, and once you’re open to new perspectives, the rings expand. There’s plenty of room for us all.

    Jacque, I loved today’s blog and topic. Thanks.

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