‘Play ‘Round Town’ gives Ypsi pianists their ‘missing keys’
LUKE JERRAM COURTESY PHOTO
The mind-numbing sound of coffee beans being ground harmonizes itself into a round middle C. Across the garage, the Sonic the Hedgehog-like whirring of a mechanic’s tools hog the soprano part, while some tires roll themselves across the concrete before flopping on their sides with a hollow, echo-y bass note.
The only thing missing is the chorus.
Then, suddenly, a sound with much more precision and grace lays dewy music over the rest of the makeshift band.
It’s a piano. It’s in a motorcycle shop. And it’s playing Chopin.
From Sept. 24 to Oct. 11, eight pianos will live on the streets of Ypsilanti during the city’s first-ever “Pianos ‘Round Town,” an event sponsored by Steinway Piano Gallery of Detroit, the Depot Town Association and the Nelson Amos Studio.
Graphic By Kate Bizer
“Since we’re pianists and we’re not carrying our instruments like other musicians do, when we see a piano in public, we’re drawn to it,” said Nelson Amos Studio co-owner and piano instructor Korin Hancherlian-Amos, 50, of Ypsilanti. “People gather around and they’re drawn to you and want to be by you.”
Putting pianos outside in Ypsilanti — four in Depot Town and four in downtown — has been in the back of Hancherlian-Amos’ mind for a year. The inspiration came from a similar event called “Play Me, I’m Yours,” a multi-city tour installed by British artist Luke Jerram, bringing the same piano idea on a grand scale to places like New York City, Barcelona, Sao Paulo in Brazil and eleven other cities to date. The current city is Grand Rapids.
Hancherlian-Amos wanted to put on the same event in Ypsilanti.
“You would think that it would happen in a place like Ann Arbor,” said Hancherlian-Amos, “but no, it’s right here.”
Since “Play Me, I’m Yours” is a trademarked name, Hancherlian-Amos would have had to jump through dozens of hoops to have Jerram sponsor the event in her city. Instead, she went ahead with a different name and Jerram’s blessing.
During the three-week event, seven businesses will have the honor and responsibility of taking care of a piano outside their doors — or inside, if weather turns for the worse. The Nelson Amos Studio will host two pianos, one of which locals will have the chance to paint. Brushes and paint will be set out, and everything but the keys will be an available canvas.
LUKE JERRAM COURTESY PHOTO
Hancherlian-Amos said that the interest local businesses have shown in the project has been “like a dream.” Besides her own studio, Café Racer, LezleyAnne Boutique, Clover Computer, the Ypsilanti Food Co-op, Mix and the Ypsilanti Convention and Visitor’s Bureau will all be host businesses.
“(Korin) showed up and asked me if I’d put the flier in the window and asked if we’d like to have a piano in our shop,” said John Craddock, 39, owner of Café Racer, a motorcycle and coffee shop. “I was like, ‘Uh,
While Craddock doesn’t play the piano himself, he does have a fellow biker who could play some blues during Café Racer’s usual Tuesday Bike Night.
“It’ll sound like a little pub! All the repairs and the piano playing…” said Craddock.
Many of the businesses involved are offering extended hours during the event, some of them even opening on Sundays to get the pianos out for the public to enjoy. This will give local pianists, string players, vocalists, dancers and other performers more chances to perform.
Some local performers are even holding small concerts. Five are scheduled already, with pianists playing by themselves, with opera singers or with a ballet dancer.
Of course, these planned performances are just an idea — anyone can just walk up to the pianos and play. If someone decides to play “Chopsticks” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Hancherlian-Amos will just be happy someone is making music.
“I don’t care! Oh no! In fact, I have a student that learned ‘Chopsticks’ as a duet!” she said.
This feeling of “all is well as long as someone plays the piano” has been a theme in Hancherlian-Amos’ life. In fact, it’s what got her to play in the first place while she was growing up with her Armenian family in Istanbul.
“I was 5 years old. My sister was taking lessons… She decided to quit, and my mother was heartbroken,” she said. “So I decided to play!”
Even though her mother was upset that her eldest daughter decided to quit, she wasn’t too happy with the idea of her younger daughter taking it up.
“She’d say, ‘You’re too little,’ because I’m a petite person. She said, ‘You can do ballet,’ and I said, ‘I don’t want to do ballet!’” exclaimed Hancherlian-Amos.
After her father’s death when she was 16, Hancherlian-Amos’ family moved to the United States. She went on to finish her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the piano at Eastern Michigan University, where she first met her husband, a student in classical guitar.
Years later, the two of them own the Nelson Amos Studio and hope that “Play ‘Round Town” will bring out Ypsilanti’s piano players. Hancherlian-Amos herself plans to play “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin and George Gershwin.
“Basically I want the streets to be filled with music,” she laughed. “That would be really nice. But we have to make sure we don’t wake up the residents.”