Sami Ahmed, 17, sat down to jam at a peculiar instrument.
It was your typical black piano, but with random objects affixed to it — an umbrella and a mounted surveillance camera that focused on his hands as he played.
Across from him, a fellow student from Hillsborough Community College played a gold and silver piano adorned with a charcoal sketch of Liberace.
The decor made their melodies all the more fun.
The students were at a reception for one of Tampa Bay's more metropolitan artistic ideas.
Starting Saturday, 10 pianos will be on display in Ybor City for anyone to play.
The instruments make up "Pianos in Ybor: Please Play Me," an interactive art installation sponsored by the GaYbor District Coalition. They will be tied down with cables under storefront roofs for protection from theft and rain.
Passers-by have been watching artists decorate the instruments at Gallery Live in Ybor since they began arriving a month ago from Dave's Piano Showroom in Brandon. The pianos range from 30 to 90 years old and would normally sell for $600 to $700 each, store owner Dave Germino said. GaYbor's total budget for the project is about $3,500, which includes advertising costs.
Now, people like Sami will be able to play them any time, 24/7.
Inspired by similar projects in London and Sao Paulo, Brazil, organizers, who include Mark Bias and Carrie West, hope local families, choirs and other groups will gather around the pianos for sing-alongs.
During the reception, a couple of students played chords and Sami performed a Mozart sonata and snippets from Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
Sami, who lives in Carrollwood with his parents, plays the bass and keyboards and sings.
"He's oozing with talent," said Keith Arsenault, theater manager at HCC.
Sami completed online high school courses at a distance learning school after homeschooling through middle school. He now attends HCC's Dale Mabry and Ybor campuses and plans a career in music writing and production.
He also has a band, Hypnophonics, with his brother, guitarist Sharif "Feef" Ahmed.
Artists decorated the instruments at Gallery Live during the past month.
HCC art students decorated the piano that Sami played. Others range from a green piano splattered with red, yellow and orange paint to another embellished with pencil drawings of a Fred Astaire-type figure dancing.
"It's like an icebreaker," said Sami, who plans to go back to play more.
The finished pianos will be displayed throughout Ybor City until Jan. 10, and then auctioned off.
Times staff writer Dalia Colon contributed to this article. Elisabeth Parker can be reached at (813) 226-3431 or [email protected]