Tickling Ivories While Biding Time

by Bob Hughes on September 2, 2016

Bob Hughes · Small Actions · September 02, 2016

Pendulum in Action, small actions, classical music, pianos on stationsI noticed something quite pleasing in some of the stations I’ve recently hurried through in Paris: pianos. Not only that, piano music. Played by passengers who, like me, came upon the keyboards there and decided to make music.

Now, most subway stations around the world have musicians stationed here and there, busking for change. And some subway cars feature, for better or worse, wandering musicians (or performers) who annoy, or thrill (depending on your tolerance) passengers with their acts.

But the pianos are different: they’re there for the playing, and they’re open, as it were, to everyone. France’s national railroad company, S.N.C.F., has put pianos in almost 100 stations in France. In a land where trains are often delayed or filled because of strikes among railway workers, pianos are a nice humanizing touch for often-harried passengers.

According to an article in the New York Times, Gares & Connexions (literally, stations and connections), a division of S.N.C.F. that manages its stations, rents the instruments from Yamaha, which maintains and tunes them every month or two.

“The pianos have proved to be very popular,” writes Aurelien Breeden in the Times, “and the music, blending with the sounds of shouting passengers, screeching trains and rolling suitcases, can give French stations a peculiar soundscape.”

And a more enjoyable atmosphere. The pianos haven’t been vandalized, and people, who are otherwise immersed in thoughts of catching a train, have been known to linger as some talented amateur (or off-duty professional) plays music.

Here’s a video of one such installation, at the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris, where a young pianist delightfully improvises on a well-known piece of classical music, giving it a ragtime beat:

Nice to see how music makes everything seem much more tolerable – and even more so in a busy train station.


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