They’re are a worldwide phenomenon. They say 38 cities have installed pianos worldwide so far, including London, Boston, Los Angeles.
Saturday afternoon. Sunny, breezy. Chloe Albert’s bored. She’s with her mother, the Coronado Flower Lady. She jumps down from the flower stand and heads across to the piano.
“Sit a spell and play a tune!” says the sign. The whole piano’s wrapped in Coronado scenes.
She sits down and starts twiddling out a tinkly tune, and then tries another. People slow down, smile, listen a moment and carry on. Her best audience is the old guy waiting for the 901 bus. Chloe’s eight years old and doesn’t care who’s listening. “I wanted to learn the piano when I saw other girls doing it,” she says. “But everything we had to learn was Disney songs. So now I’m practicing my own songs.”
And she does. “Summer Day,” then “You Heart Me.”
Saturday again, around 4:30 pm. Dylan Widjaja’s at the piano rattling off “Begin the Beguine.” He’s good. “Been playing since I was eight,” he says. “Classical. But also jazz for six years.”
Now he’s 23, a software developer. His family’s sitting on the park benches nearby, listening. Then his mom scoots her wheelchair right up to where he’s playing. She’s from Indonesia. You can tell from her expression how proud she is.
Dylan whacks out a mean “Mack the Knife,” then “Cheek to Cheek.”
“Guess I’m stuck in the ‘50s,” he says.
Monday afternoon: “My shipmates don’t know,” says Bruschard Fletcher, “but I leave the ship and come down here to play every day. I make up tunes. I love the smiles I get, and the kids who come by and listen. Music uplifts everything.”
He’s part of the arrester cable crew on the USS Carl Vinson’s flight deck. “On board, you’re kind of locked away. Sometimes I play here for hours. It gives me peace of mind.”
Sunday: “We were only eleven, but acting like grownups.’” Samantha and Molly are both singing and playing this Anne-Marie song, shyly at first, but getting courage on the high notes. “Singing at the top of both our lungs,” they end. “On the day we fell in love.”
They pull back on that final word, “love.”
“We came down from Orange County,” says Molly. “You never see public pianos in Orange County, because no one walks. It’s too spread out.”
“We sang in the choir at school,” says Samantha, “but this is awesome, like the chance to perform and chill, right out in the open.”
They’re about to launch back into Anne-Marie when a whole bunch of other kids turn up. “It’s my 16th birthday, today!” says Molly. “That’s why we’re here!”
Now, they all start singing.
Friday night: “I used to live here,” says Nate. Sounds nostalgic. He’s playing Stevie Wonder’s “Cherie Amour.” Pretty good.
“Taught myself,” he says. He’s 25 now, an aerospace engineer. “But I’d be happy if I could just compose, sing, play, like bossa nova, blues, rock. This piano is awesome. Because you get an audience. They stop and actually listen.”
I leave him playing from My Fair Lady, “On the Street Where You Live.”
Whatever’s in the Kool-Aid, it must be working. Coronado now has a second public piano.
Honestly, nobody I’ve heard yet is Liberace. But that’s the point, isn’t it?