Play Me, I'm Yours
It brought together a German woman with her two children, tourists from Seoul and Montreal, a group of four City workers nursing pints outside the nearby pub, and several very gifted amateur musicians. I'm talking about an upright piano, left apparently at random in the wide pedestrianised thoroughfare between St. Paul's Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge in central London, which absolutely anyone could play if they wished to. It was part of the cultural initiative called "Play me, I'm Yours", and it featured on today's edition of You & Yours.
I went to see it last Thursday with colleague and producer, Catherine Carr. Our brief was to record some of the piano playing, talk to some of those brave enough to have a go, and gauge the reaction of those listening. It was a genuinely uplifting experience.
Firstly, the talent of those playing was often breathtaking. One student, who claimed that he only took up the piano two years previously, gave us a medley of - among others - Rachmaninov, Chopin and Mozart. Initially tentative, he soon became absorbed in his playing, so much so that he seemed entirely oblivious of what was going on around him...including Catherine's and my potential intrusion involving a microphone and recording equipment. When he finished, a young lad from Belgium who'd also been very modest about his musical achievements, maintained the high performance standard.
Secondly, it brought out the best in passers-by. Complete strangers who wouldn't usually dream of starting up a conversation seemed entirely at ease when chatting to a neighbour about the music they were both listening to. There were smiles, throwaway observations, and a genuine appreciation of what was going on, even among those who were the first to admit they knew very little about the music being played.
Of course the other reason I was sent out to cover this was because I play the piano myself. I began learning when I was five, and reached a reasonable standard as a teenager. These days, though, standards have noticeably slipped, although I still enjoy it as a source of relaxation when there's a need to escape the rigours of the BBC. So I knew - and Catherine was egging me on - that at some point during this recording I was going to have to play this particular piano myself. In front of all these passers-by. Immediately after a brilliant student.
Thankfully I was able to remember the start of the second movement of one of my favourite Beethoven sonatas, the Pathetique. The fingers landed largely in the right places, we recorded as much as we needed, and I decided to quit while I was ahead. The onlookers clapped more generously than I deserved - egged on by Catherine once again - and I was able to return to the office with my reputation just about intact. If you were there and you applauded, thank you very much!