PMQ Corner #23

A Piano, An Experiment II

Play Me, I'm Yours

Written by Kit Chan
Translated by Derek Leung
Photos from PMQ

Play Me, I'm Yours is an art programme launched by artist Luke Jerram where pianos are placed outdoors welcoming passers-by to have unconstrained interaction. Since its inception, overwhelming responses were seen in various cities from all over the world.

Last year when the idea was brought to Hong Kong, PMQ as an organizer brought the pianos to different places including outdoor wet markets, parks and busy streets where the public, musicians and celebrities were invited to play and street parties were held with a view to widespreading happiness through music.

Play Me I’m Yours @ Mongkok Pedestrian Street, Kowloon (Sai Yeung Choi Street South)(Left) & Reclamation Street Market, Yau Ma Tei (Right)

The real show was on stage after a series of official promotional activities: in March this year, 17 pianos were scattered throughout Hong Kong and passers-by were welcomed to play impromptu as in foreign cities. The operation looking smooth, the troubles lay in the administrative tasks the host team had to go through probably because the similar has never been organized before.

In general, fixed dates are common for running street art activities in Hong Kong. However, Play Me, I'm Yours aims at getting integrated into everyone's daily life and is thus assumed to run night and day without any pause, resulting in indecisiveness of the government departments responsible for the venue approval.

Despite repeated explanation on the programme concept, the question to the host team remained, "Can the piano be moved away at night?"

Play Me I’m Yours @Jao Tsung-I Academy at Sham Shui Po District (Left), Sai Kung Waterfront Park at Sai Kung District (Right)

For security reasons, change or cancellation is compulsory over some proposed venues including the exits of public swimming pools, parks with ponds, and the central part of busy pedestrian roads.

"'No' is too common around the city. Restrictions including 'No Noise' and 'No Danger' upon street performances and art turn to be norms and we become inclined to say 'no' even to certain possibilities," said programme producer Sheryl.

Nonetheless, LCSD and Lands Department of the HKSAR Government provided satisfying practical assistance on the rental of parks and streets respectively, such as advising the placing of the pianos in semi-open locations to avoid bad weather as much as possible and even arranging staff to shelter the pianos with plastic covers for inclemency.

Play Me I’m Yours @ Tai Po MTR Station Exit, Taipo District (Left) & How Ming Street, Kwun Tong District (Right)

After two months of mediation, permits of approval were eventually issued and the pianos were then sent to different districts to witness the market responses. While some had no idea of and thus staying away the pianos to see what was happening, some thought they needed to pay to play and others considered the pianos props for shooting only. Without surprise, the first ones to access the piano were always the children.

Play Me I’m Yours @ Tai Po MTR Station Exit,Taipo District (Left) & Kai Man Path, Tuen Mun District(Right)

When most were used to the existence of the pianos, crowds of ladies came over to sing, music teachers had outdoor classes with their students to the outdoor class, whereas some white-collars showed up with their meal boxes and played during the lunch time or after evening overtime work to enjoy their relaxing workless time.

Play Me I’m Yours @ Kowloon Park, Yau Tsim Mong District,(Left) & Tsing Yi Park, Kwai Tsing District(Right)

A touching scene was found around Luen Wo Hui in Fanling where the piano was placed in a deserted vegetable market.A middle-aged woman looked over with curiosity hearing the music. "I encouraged her to play. She said she was in the recycling field and so didn't want to dirty the piano," said team member TK with fresh memory. After hesitation for a moment, the woman finally put the fingers on the keyboard with courage.

"That was her ever first time to touch the piano."

Play Me I’m Yours @ Luen Wo Hui Market, Fanling, North District

Another case worth discussion happened in To Kwa Wan. Once a piano was sent to House of Stories, a community organization nestled in an intensive residential area, and the neighbourhood turned more bustling. However, a social problem arose as some even came and played at 9 pm and the sound aroused complaints from nearby early sleepers. FEHD of the HKSAR Government was notified and moving away the piano was almost the way out.

Fortunately, the female proprietor of the flower stall rendered her warm help by pressing the top part of the piano with a flower pot.

Play Me I’m Yours @ To Kwa Wan, Kowloon City District

And the repeated complainants eventually showed up to counter-advise to lock up the piano only at night so as not to give nearby residents a good sleep.

The active involvement of the neighborhood gives another meaning to the programme - but is a piano with "opening hours" already against the original concept of Play Me, I'm Yours? A question is unexpectedly raised over such an issue close to the topic of community management:

Is it simply our wild guess that the residents would certainly welcome (and thus benefit) from the art based on the community?

Could we think bigger and come up with a more people-centered approach such as holding a residents' meeting to discuss an arrangement welcomed by all parties, so that the piano can be considered a vehicle for us to further understand the general public?

The more worrying issue of piano damage turned out to be not very serious. "There's something wrong with the one only in Wong Tai Sin. The keys are swollen and we believe there's been constant fierce collision, so it needs a detailed repair."

What scared the organizer the most was the complete disappearance of the piano and the accompanying standing description banner outside Tai Wai East Rail Station simply on the second day and both objects are still now missing.

Play Me I’m Yours @ Shing Kee noodles, Shatin District (Left) & Tsuen Wan Park, Tsuen Wan District(Right)

Despite the ups and downs, the organizer still feels worth running this programme. "Hong Kong people are too cautious, more imagination should be encouraged in the city," summarized Sheryl.

Although the programme has ended, art remains. Recently, the organizer has donated 12 among those pianos to the schools for minority groups and non-profit-making institutions where there is a shortage of musical instruments, sustaining in another means the imagination and the beauty of art advocated by Jerram.

(End)

Note: Play Me, I’m Yours has shared music and happiness in the following locations in Hong Kong:

PMQ, Mongkok Pedestrian Street (Sai Yeung Choi Street South), Reclamation Street Market at Yau Ma Tei, Fuk Wa Street at Sham Shui Po, Shing Kee Noodles at Shatin, Viewing Pavilions at Kwun Tong Promenade, Hong Kong Park, Nursery Park at West Kowloon Cultural District (Freespace Happening), Arcade at Kowloon Park, Hong Kong Arts Centre at Wan Chai, Comics Home Base at Wan chai, Oi! at North Point, Tai Po Waterfront Park, Hung Fook Street at To Kwa Wan , Ngau Tau Kok Road Rest Garden at Kowloon Bay, Youth Square at Chaiwan, Belcher Bay Park at Western District, Ap Lei Chau Wind Tower Park Exhibition Gallery at Southern District, Haiphong Road at Tsim Sha Tsui, Jao Tsung-I Academy at Sham Shui Po, Suffolk Road at Kowloon City, How Ming Street at Kwun Tong, Tai Po Market Station Exit at Taipo, Tsuen Wan Park at Tsuen Wan, Tsing Yi Park At Kwai Tsing District, Kai Man Path at Tuen Mun, Tin Shui Wai Park at Yuen Long, Luen Wo Hui Market at Fanling, Lung Cheung Road at Wong Tai Sin, Sai Kung Waterfront Park, Tai Wai MTR Exit at Shatin.