Tickling the ivories under the midnight sun

Since 2008, over 10-million people across the globe have been part of an art project that placed 1,890 street pianos at 75 installations in 60 cities, including the likes of New York, London, Tokyo and Sao Paulo. The creation of British artist Luke Jerram, the Play Me, I’m Yours art exhibit (profiled on www.streetpianos.com), inspired local musician Grant Simpson that there was an opportunity to do a made-in-the-Yukon version.

Michael Kishchuk (front) and Grant Simpson get set on the Horwoods Mall piano
Michael Kishchuk (front) and Grant Simpson get set on the Horwoods Mall piano

“I realized that we’re not going to get an art installation here,” Simpson said. “But thought we can do something … so I bought an old piano, and my girlfriend [Shauna Jones] painted it.”

The concept proved popular when Simpson posted his idea on social media, and support and financial backing was offered to launch the initiative. That type of support isn’t always there when artists embark on a new endeavour, so Simpson appreciated the community enthusiasm.

“I posted it and it blew up with amazing response and people funding it,” he said. “I had to cap [the numbers] to keep it manageable, and we went from there.

“I thought it would be cool for a piano student to go around and play on them all summer.”

The Whitehorse Street Pianos project will launch June 12, with shows on Tuesday through Saturday from a born-and-raised Yukoner, Michael Kishchuk of Whitehorse. The role was a great opportunity for Kishchuk, who attends Dalhousie University during the school year. He grew up playing piano, having learned from Annie Avery, who taught him a love of the old ragtime music. As a result, he can play a wide variety of music, including favourites like “Maple Leaf Rag,” “The Entertainer,” “Solace,” and several others “not by Joplin.” He can also perform a few classics, such as Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” and the first movement of the “Moonlight Sonata” (to be played under that glorious midnight sun).

“[Avery] taught me a lot of ragtime and jazz,” Kishchuk said. “Seeing the job was too good to be true, I applied for it immediately.”

It was also too good to be true for Simpson, who had seen Kishchuk play for him and Avery last summer.

“Michael’s a perfect fit for it,” Simpson said. “You need to be a tourism ambassador and be confident and carry yourself well.”

Simpson notes that he’s always building on his ideas, so the the project also launched another idea, the Whitehorse Street Piano Festival that takes place on June 16 and 17. If the pianos are going to be there, why not make use of them?

“I thought it would be an opportunity to show the talent of local piano players,” Simpson explained.

The two-day festival will feature local piano players, around downtown Whitehorse, playing at the piano installations. The festival will feature 30 mini concerts over the two days (see inset for schedule). For more information on the Whitehorse Street Piano project, follow them on Instagram @WhitehorseStreetPianos. And details on the Whitehorse Street Piano Festival can be found on Facebook.

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