At the piano under the trees between the Creekside Community Centre and False Creek, passersby paused to listen to GP Mendoza improvise from a Coldplay song.
After he'd finished, a boy slid onto the bench and played a tune. A woman, possibly his mother, yelled, "Throw down your hat."
When Mendoza played again, a man with an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt stopped and said, "That's awesome."
Those are some of the scenes Mendoza has experienced or seen as part of the Keys to the Streets project that's placed three pianos in outdoor Vancouver locations until Aug. 24.
Mendoza, who heads the project, admits he's been practicing since the instruments hit the streets at the start of the month so he can perform on demand. A recent political science grad from Simon Fraser University, he was a member of a class at CityStudio.
It's a collaboration between six post-secondary institutions, the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Economic Commission to get students working with city staff and the community on projects that further the city's Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. His group had heard about public pianos in other cities like London, England, Barcelona, Spain and Montreal. They found a free piano on Craigslist in April and set it up at MacAuley Park, the little triangle of grass near Les Faux Bourgeois restaurant at Kingsway and Fraser.
The scale of positive response was so great that CityStudio hired Mendoza to lead a public piano project this summer to animate public spaces in new ways.
"It's a big conversation starter," Mendoza said.
Anyone can slide onto a bench and plunk away.
A polka-dot piano at Spyglass Place near the southern foot of the Cambie Bridge has received much attention. The piano first appeared at Robson Square at the launch of the city's VIVA Vancouver project, which aims to enliven public spaces.
"We had some pretty professional guys come up," Mendoza said. "You wouldn't think that they'd be professional-sounding pianists but they'd just come up and rip apart the keys and then just leave. It would be awesome. People would take photos and people would clap. It was exciting, interesting, weird all at the same time."
From his perch at CityStudio at Spyglass Place, Mendoza has witnessed a Beatles sing-a-long. His favourite sights have appeared on Twitter and Instagram. Musicians performing on an upright bass, kick and snare drum and the piano jazzed up the path in front of Creekside last week. Whitecap fans wearing their scarves gathered at the polka-dot piano to celebrate after the team's recent win.
Mendoza takes care of the piano at Spyglass. Creekside Community Centre staff makes sure the one on the seawall is covered at night and staff of a youth substance abuse program look after the piano in Robson Park at St. George and Kingsway. The Mount Pleasant piano will be donated to the nearby Boys and Girls Club after its stint outdoors and the Creekside piano will go to the community centre.
The pianos and benches are chained together. The piano at Creekside has been hit with minor graffiti.
Mendoza expects a fourth piano to pop up near the information booth near the entrance to Stanley Park by August.
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