'Pianos in Ybor' brings music to Seventh Avenue

Mike Gibb, 56, plays a piano decorated in honor of Liberace during the opening of the Pianos in Ybor art installation. In all, 10 artist-decorated pianos will be put on the streets of Ybor for all to play.

Photos by Willie J. Allen Jr./tbt*

Mike Gibb, 56, plays a piano decorated in honor of Liberace during the opening of the Pianos in Ybor art installation. In all, 10 artist-decorated pianos will be put on the streets of Ybor for all to play.

For the next two months in Ybor City, you're as likely to hear Beethoven as you are the Black Eyed Peas.

That's because starting Saturday, 10 colorfully decorated pianos will be on display throughout the neighborhood for anyone to play. The instruments make up Pianos in Ybor: Please Play Me, an interactive art installation sponsored by the GaYbor District Coalition. The instruments will be tied down with cables under storefront roofs for protection from theft and rain. The public will have 24/7 access to play them.

"Part of the excitement of having the pianos in Ybor is that now we're going to see what the public does for the next part," said Mark Bias, one of the organizers and co-secretary of the GaYbor District Coalition, which unofficially governs Ybor City's gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses.

Bias and GaYbor president Carrie West, who were inspired by similar projects in London and Sao Paulo, hope families, choirs and other groups will gather around the pianos for sing-alongs. They've extended invitations to several high school music departments.

The pianos are already piquing the public's interest, as passersby have watched Ybor artists decorating the instruments at Gallery Live since they began arriving a month ago from Dave's Piano Showroom in Brandon.

Last Friday, Ybor City resident Shikeeta McCray wandered into Gallery Live to admire a white piano painted with gray and magenta swirls.

"I think it's excellent. It's different," McCray, 22, said of the project. "Everyone needs to broaden their imagination."

That's exactly what the artists have done, from a green piano splattered with red, yellow and orange paint to an instrument embellished with pencil drawings of a Fred Astaire-type figure dancing in a top hat. Gallery Live owner and executive director Mathieu Stanoch teamed up with artist Chou Chou Guilder to deck out a piano in tribute to Liberace. Their gold and silver masterpiece features a charcoal sketch of the legendary pianist, plus a candelabra and champagne bucket affixed to the instrument.

"We just really give homage to someone who is so great in the piano community and just an icon of fabulousness — which is what we're trying to do down here," Stanoch said.

But turning Pianos in Ybor into a reality hasn't always been beautiful music. One piano was found to be unplayable after the artist had decorated it. Then there was the challenge of decorating the uprights.

"I'm used to painting flat surfaces, and pianos are just a little different — curvy and shapes and just totally different," said artist David Edmund, who describes his creation as abstract. "You prime it with white paint and that helps, but it's a little different."

The finished pianos debuted at a Nov. 7 reception at Gallery Live. They'll be displayed throughout Ybor City until Jan. 10 and then auctioned off.

Striking the wrong chord

With so many pianos out this weekend, you might be tempted to show off your ivory-tapping skills. But here are 10 songs we don't want to hear in the streets of Ybor City.

1. Chopsticks by Arthur de Lulli: There's no quicker way to say, "I really can't play piano."

2. Heart and Soul by Hoagy Carmichael: How this song got its name is beyond us.

3. I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) by Meat Loaf: Then don't. Please.

4. Low by Flo Rida: Not sure how you'd play this on a piano, but we don't want to hear you try.

5. American Pie by Don McLean: That song is more than eight minutes long. How about giving someone else a turn?

6. Super Freak by Rick James: So you can play the bass line with your left hand. We are so not impressed.

7. Fallin' by Alicia Keys: Unless you can hit that high note.

8. Anything by John Tesh: He's already telling us how to dress on a job interview and how much water to drink. Isn't that enough?

9. Anything by Yanni: Or should we say Yawn-ni?

10. Piano Man by Billy Joel: Harmonica solo. 'Nuff said.

'Pianos in Ybor' brings music to Seventh Avenue 11/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 12, 2009 4:44pm]

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