A Place for the Arts

A Place for the Arts

I spent yesterday morning with a group of elders at Willow Valley Retirement Community, teaching a life story writing course. It was our third class session, and the focus of yesterday’s session was people and relationships in their lives. I love teaching these courses, as the participants always have such wonderful stories to share, yet so few opportunities to be heard.

One man in the class, named Melvin, told us about a teacher he had when he was a young teen who influenced his entire life. One of the things he told us about that teacher really caught my attention. He said that his teacher firmly believed that being involved in activities like music and art were just as important as subjects like math and science, and she allowed her students to skip study hall in order to participate in some of those other activities.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether a teacher today would be able to do such a thing. Budget cuts and mandatory testing have become the double-whammy that’s taken things like music and art OUT of a lot of schools.

Here in Lancaster, several organizations are working to keep the arts alive in our schools. One of them is Music for Everyone, an organization “dedicated to raising awareness and resources to strengthen the role that music plays in our schools and communities.” Through their grants program for schools, MFE has been able to contribute over $200,000 to schools and community groups to keep music programs going.

One of MFE’s most visible initiatives is Keys for the City. The basic concept is that artists paint donated pianos, and the pianos are then placed around Lancaster city from May through September, where anyone can sit down and play. And people do!

Part of the beauty of Keys for the City is in the diversity of people who sit down and play those pianos. Another part of the beauty is in the diversity of people who stop to listen. Keys for the City creates this wonderful community-building dynamic in which people who might not even notice each other just walking along a city street are suddenly captivated, together, in a shared moment of music.

Sometimes it’s a dad and his daughter, playing chopsticks together, as out-of-town tourists stop to listen and applaud. A dad and daughter’s rendition of chopsticks wasn’t on the tourists’ “Things to See in Lancaster” itinerary – but there they are, together, enjoying the moment.

Maybe it’s a few high schoolers on a First Friday, gathered around a piano, texting each other while one of them sits down to bang out a classical number his sixth grade music teacher required him to memorize, and it’s still there, in the deep recesses of his adolescent brain. And the middle-class suburbanites who have come into the city to stroll along Gallery Row take a minute to stop and listen, perhaps reminiscing about their own long-ago music lessons and connecting, if only for a moment, with the teens through that shared experience.

Or a twenty-something guy, cigarette dangling from his mouth, looking for all the world like a young Sinatra and playing a Sinatra tune to the motley mix of people gathered outside the Duke Street library, waiting for the doors to open: moms with young kids headed to storytime, downtown workers returning books and DVD’s, people who spent last night in a shelter, and will spend the day in the library, using the computers, reading the newspaper, and simply being somewhere safe, warm and dry. The strands of music coming from that brightly-painted piano create a web of connection between them all.

Sometimes it’s a professional musician like Joy Ike at the keyboard in Penn Square, pounding out an upbeat tune and singing away to the mix of working men on their lunch breaks and out-of-work men with no lunch.

Oh sure, sometimes people use the piano benches to just sit and take a rest, have a smoke, make a phone call.

But sometimes what happens at those pianos is truly magical, as in this photo, my all-time favorite Keys for the City pic, taken by my own hubby, Bruce. BE SURE TO CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PHOTO.

If you’d like to see (and HEAR) some very cool Keys for the City music, check out this fantastic video.

The Keys for the City pianos have been rolled away into storage for the winter now. I’ll miss their colorful presence around the city. I’ll miss the continual surprises that came from seeing who sat down to play, and who stopped to listen. And I hope they’ll be back again next summer. In the meantime, thanks, MFE, for all you do to create a place for the arts in our schools and on our city streets here in Lancaster.

(NOTE: the additional photo of the girl singing in FRONT of one of the Keys for the City pianos was also taken by Bruce on a Music Friday in Downtown Lancaster this summer)


Music For Everyone is one of the participants in this year’s Gifts That Give Hope

And check out their “Something for Everyone” event on October 14, 2011 at 7pm at the Elks Lodge, 219 N Duke St in Lancaster. It’ll be a great fundraiser for MFE featuring lots of local musicians, food, drinks, raffles and silent auction. Don’t miss it! For more info, see the MFE website.

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa arts&culture;

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