Music on Merrimack Street: Lowell’s First Public Piano Unveiled
LOWELL -- As the last notes rang out from the piano sitting on the sidewalk along Merrimack Street, self-taught pianist James Mbogga turned to the audience and asked if they wanted to hear another song.
The 22-year-old Lowell resident’s question was met with a resounding “yeah,” from the several people on hand for the unveiling of Lowell’s first public street piano on Wednesday.
“It would be cool if everyone joined in,” Mbogga said before he began to sing while his fingers fluttered across the keys.
Mbogga was one of a handful of musicians invited to play during the street piano unveiling. The piano, located on Merrimack Street in front of the Enterprise Bank fence, was donated to the city with the goal of enlivening the Canalway Cultural District through spontaneous performances.
“We have seen these pianos and heard about them popping up in cities across the country, so it’s so exciting to have this here with the artist district and all the things happening with downtown,” said City Manager Eileen Donoghue.
The piano was donated to the city by Lowell resident Paul Belley, who was also on hand for Wednesday’s unveiling. Belley, a saxophonist of 45 years, pointed out he initially got the piano with plans of learning how to play the instrument.
“But it just didn’t take,” Belley said.
Rather than getting rid of the piano, Belley decided to see if the city wanted it. The Lowell resident said he’s encountered similar street piano’s in cities like Manchester, Nashua and Boston.
“Some of the piano players are just bangers, but every now and then you’ll see someone who clearly knows what they’re doing sit down,” Belley said. “They’ll draw a nice little crowd around them.”
Local artist Margo Mam Thach’s talents are also shown on the piano in the form of her visual artistry. Thach turned the instrument into a piece of artwork on its own with gold murals capturing themes of Lowell, including a textile mill, the City Hall clock tower and images of Cambodian culture.
Beginner, novice and expert piano players are welcome to use the piano, which will be available to play Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Andrew Duncan, of Enterprise Bank and the Cultural Organization of Lowell, has agreed to be the “piano keeper,” removing and replacing the piano’s protective tarp for the remainder of the season. The piano, which is fastened to a fence pole, will also be tuned on a regular basis.
“It’s a little late in the season, but the idea is we’ll have it for the next three weeks,” said Henri Marchand, director of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. “When the weather turns on us, we’ll bring it back, store it and bring it back out in the spring.”
Marchand added, if everything goes as planned, a second piano will be added to the downtown area next spring.
Musicians are encouraged to record their performances and post them to their Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts using the hastag #lowellstreetpiano.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis