Nachmi Kott was in New York when he encountered a unique project — numerous pianos were placed all over Manhattan for people to play at their leisure, and he had the opportunity to play one of them.
"It was awesome because you can see that people were stopping by and watching, people were playing with each other on the piano — making duets of the sort — and I thought it was really cool," said Kott, a junior computer science major at this university.
This experience inspired Kott, president of student group Pianos for Play, and his friends to localize the project for the university community.
Pianos for Play is a student-run organization that is dedicated to enhancing community bonding among those on the campus, Kott said. The group is instituting a pilot project, featuring five student-painted pianos that will be placed across the campus. The project began Monday and will continue through April 24; the pianos will be available to play from 9 a.m. until sunset, when group members will lock and cover the instruments to prevent weather damage.
"We're infusing music and art together to create this type of community bonding on-campus," he said.
Kott said he collaborated with friends to collect pianos from all over the Washington region for free. These pianos have been placed in the Washington Quad, on McKeldin Mall, by the Physical Science Building, by the Computer Science Building and near the Hoff Theater entrance, Kott said. The McKeldin Mall piano will be transferred to Hornbake Plaza today.
"People as they pass by can stop, play for a little bit and head on their way," Kott said. "The intent of the project is that students are able to play as they please."
The collection of pianos accumulated after Kott said he found a free piano on Craigslist.
"We had the piano in my apartment, and I thought to myself, 'How cool would it be if we picked up even more pianos?'" he said. "We kept collecting piano after piano and then we decided to pull off this project."
The group collected six pianos, five of which are for the project, Kott said. Max Milter, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center's piano technician, repaired and tuned the pianos for the project.
Amalya Sherman, the project's creative director and designer, was in charge of compiling a list of a few artists who might be interested in painting a piano for the project.
"I jumped on the opportunity to work with [Kott] to bring this project to fruition," said Sherman, a junior studio art major. "It's been a long haul but a fun one."
Potential artists needed to complete an application process to paint the pianos, Kott said, and they selected five students to paint the pianos. Those students have been working on the project for the past month in a studio in the Art-Sociology Building.
"Each artist has their own intricate design and their own talents that they put on these pianos," Kott said.
Freshman Mollie Schwartz, one of the piano artists, said she was immediately interested in this project. She said this project was a way for her to artistically illustrate her family's experience, choosing to paint a ski-themed piano.
"It's been a huge part of our life," said Schwartz, an art major and pre-med student. "Skiing represents fun, family and friends, but also hard work and goals. My brother was the best skier I know, and he was only getting better. I painted the piano in memory of him and with him in mind and used pictures of him as reference for both of the sides."
The large skier on the left side of her piano, she said, is her brother with his face mask, which is reminiscent of their skiing memories.
"The two of us have these face masks that we've had since we were really young. That one is his," Schwartz said. "The skier jumping on the left side is based off a picture of him, and the skis with the red, white and blue are the skis he was currently using."
Senior Jasmine Alexander, who painted another one of the pianos, said she found out about the project through an email from the art department and was interested because she plays the piano.
"I thought it would be so wonderful to be a part of something combining two of my favorite things," the art major said.
Alexander, who said she painted a whimsical nautical scene featuring a ship and waves, said she loved the experience of using expressive color and creating engaging scenes.
"I tried to depict it in a playful way, so I used a lot of color and I tried to make it fun so that hopefully it would make people smile when they see it," she said.
Sherman said she is "psyched" to see how the student body receives this project.
"As an art major, I believe that art and music have the power to uplift your spirits and bring a smile to your face," she said. "We are a STEM-focused school, and our campus is in sore need of some art to brighten our stressful academic days."
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article misspelled the name of piano technician Max Milter. The article has been updated.