The small but curious crowd outside Good to Go Jamaican restaurant, 711 Howard St. midmorning on May 22 eyed the black Wurlitzer piano with the decorative carvings as though it were an exotic pet. The invitation was unmistakable – “Play Me” – but perhaps shyness or rusty skills kept the spectators at a respectful distance. Finally, someone responded. Jeremy Ramey, Music Director of Theo Ubique Cabaret Theater next door, captured the audience, coaxing melody and harmony from the not-yet-tuned instrument.
Evanston artist Kristi Cahill spent the winter decorating the piano, using a dremmel, a hand-held drill. A 1990 graduate of the School of the Art Institute, Ms. Cahill said, “I didn’t look at a lot of the other [street] pianos” in other public spaces while she worked on this one.
She drilled the words “Play Me” in three different places on the Wurlitzer, and, rather than completing the phrase with “I’m Yours,” she chose the more intricate vining decorations. Her love of print-making led her to create the poster for the piano in reverse on the back of the piano, “so I could make a wood-cut.”
A donation to the Evanston community from Hannah and Dave McConnell to the Howard Street Business Association, the piano will travel along the 500-700 blocks of Howard Street, to be played by anyone and everyone passing by and cared for by the various businesses, said Alderman Ann Rainey, whose Eighth Ward encompasses Howard Street. The association will register the piano with the international “Play Me, I’m Yours” list, she added.
British artist Luke Jerram conceived of the idea of public or “street” pianos more than a decade ago, and since then more than 1,900 pianos have been installed in 60 or more places around the world. Each piano bears the inscription “Play Me, I’m Yours.”
The idea behind the street pianos, according to the website streetpianos.com, is to “invite the public to engage with, activate and take ownership of their urban environment, and to share their love of music and the visual arts. … Located on streets, in public parks, markets and train stations the pianos are available for everyone to play and enjoy.”
The Howard Street piano (or Howard street piano) offers residents and visitors another way to play in Evanston.