Music For Everyone recently removed 13 pianos from the streets of Lancaster to close out this year’s Keys for the City program.
(Two indoor pianos, one located at the train station and the other at Park City Center, will remain in place.)
Since 2010, more than 100 pianos have been made available to the public 24/7 for the entire summer. So it is with good reason that Lancaster can claim that it is the “Street Piano Capital of the World.”
As in past summers, tens of thousands of magical musical moments occurred this year around those pianos, bringing together people of all ages, beliefs and backgrounds to share in the community-building power of music. Simply hearing an unseen piano being played a block away serves to unite citizens in a unique way and reminds us of just how cool and unique our city is.
But beyond those many magical musical moments, what remains so striking about eight years of Keys for the City is how citywide collaboration among generous and community-minded businesses, government agencies, artists, educators and citizens can yield such widespread community benefit.
Let’s start with city government. When we first considered creating Keys for the City, our greatest concern was the prospect of having to deal with city officials to secure permission to place pianos throughout the city, many of which are in city-owned parks and squares. A common reaction to that prospect was, “Good luck fighting City Hall. No way will they let you do that.”
We feared that the pace of receiving approval would be glacial and the process full of roadblocks and procedural hoops that would needlessly delay, if not defeat, the proposal.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. While Mayor Rick Gray’s initial reaction was, “You guys are crazy,” he quickly followed with, “Go for it. And let us know what we can do to help.”
City officials, starting with Department of Public Works Director Charlotte Katzenmoyer, have been exceedingly cooperative, flexible and encouraging. They always responded to our requests by asking how they could help us.
While there may be cities where interacting with public officials is a frustrating chore, Lancaster is not one of them. Clearly, the Gray administration understands that making good things happen in the community requires collaboration and the ability to build and leverage synergies. We found that government, run by committed public servants, can get good things done.
Then there are the many businesses, large and small, and individuals who have generously sponsored the pianos. Of particular note is Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, which stepped up this year as the presenting sponsor for the program.
These sponsorships are critical to Music For Everyone’s mission, as the revenue generated from Keys for the City is applied directly to our annual instrument grant program. This year, Music For Everyone awarded more than $100,000 in grants for instrument and instrument repair to Lancaster County schools and community arts groups.
Other companies offered in-kind services in support of the program. And we’re grateful to the businesses and organizations that have allowed us to place pianos on their property. Having access to these high-traffic and easily accessible street spots is critical to making the program a success.
And Keys for the City would not be possible without the support of our local artists who have so generously donated their time and talent to design and paint the pianos. Of particular note is Jonathan Yeager of Wonderhead Collective, who has designed a piano for eight consecutive years.
Also deserving appreciation are the art teachers from several School District of Lancaster schools who have used the pianos as school art projects for their students. This is a tremendous example of linking curriculum to a community project to create a dynamic learning environment for our young people. And those students have created amazing pieces of art.
Then there are the pianos themselves. We wouldn’t have Keys for the City without pianos. We are so grateful to the many individuals who have donated them.
These are all examples of the Lancaster community’s can-do mindset — one that manifested itself in the almost universal response of “How can I help?” to requests for assistance with the program.
And finally, to the citizens of Lancaster who have not only played the pianos but more importantly, have embraced and taken care of them: It truly is a testament to the amazing, caring civic-mindedness of our community. It makes one very proud to be a Lancaster city resident.
Keys for the City truly is a product and example of how wonderful community initiatives can become reality in a generous, caring community that is willing to collaborate for the common good.
Play on, Lancaster. Play on!
We’ll see you next year.
Dr. John Gerdy is founder and executive director of Music For Everyone. Gerdy’s website: johngerdy.com.