Pianos on Parade brings the joy of music to downtown Minneapolis

If you’re lucky, you might hear William Crawford making music at Nicollet Mall.

“I always play those pianos downtown,” says Crawford, who lives in downtown Minneapolis. “It helps me get through everyday life. I just have a lot of things going on, it helps clear my mind, every time I play.

Empty the mind with the fingers on the keyboard, note by note.

People who have joined include Matt Bazzano, an attorney for Eagan who may or may not be a maestro in the making.

“I love Bruce Springsteen, and there’s a song, ‘Thunder Road,’ that I’ve been listening to since I was little. I’m no good,” he laughs. “But I think most people can play the piano if you know how, persevere, practice a little.”

The Minneapolis downtown council calls it Pianos on Parade: 24 brightly painted uprights installed in city streets and parks in June.

“There are so many people who are really good at playing the piano,” said Mark Remme, director of communications and research for the council. “You’ll see people walking down the street, they’ll stop and play, and then they’ll share music with everyone.”

With the help of PNC Bank, the non-profit association Keys for Kids is renovating the pianos. Then, volunteers, including children from the downtown Women’s Y, give them a fresh coat of paint and colorful designs.

Then there’s Va’riyah Osby, from Robbinsdale. She may be the youngest to hit the keyboards along the Nicollet Mall.

“Is that your favorite thing to do, come here and play the piano?” we asked.

Va’riyah gave us a vigorous nod and a smile.

“How old are you again?” we asked. ” Four ! she declared, holding up four fingers.

“And you like to play the piano?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What’s fun?”

“Like that,” Va’riyah replied, before hitting the keys.

His mother, Jamekia, says she takes the 4-year-old to the Nicollet shopping center twice a week. She is now thinking of enrolling Va’riyah in piano lessons.

“It’s like his favorite pastime,” Osby says. “I didn’t even know they turned them off. I like it. She does it herself. I enjoy watching her. It’s funny.”

Pianos Around Minneapolis (KSTP)

For players young and old, it’s practice, practice, practice.

“I have kids, and they play the piano, and I have to play because it keeps them playing,” Bazzano explains. “They are better than me now. I need to be able to help them with a note. It’s my inspiration.

All that jingling of the keys has limited engagement, though.

Remme says the summer heat and humidity make the pianos usable for only about 30 days, and Keys for Kids will pick up all the pianos at the end of June.

Those that are still in good condition will be reused for other events, Remme says.

“We released the pianos from June 1 to June 30,” he notes. “They are available to play every day, just 24 pianos spread across the city center. It’s a great way for us to be part of the downtown Minneapolis community and for people to share in the gift of music during the month of June.

“When the weather finally gets nice outside, I love having a piano to walk around and play for five minutes and take a break,” adds Bazzano. “Coming out of COVID, like having people able to do things like that, is smart, I think. I like it.”

So this month, you might hear random notes downtown. A little music in the air and food for the soul.

“Having these pianos, so anyone can walk in and start playing, is a beautiful thing,” Crawford says. “Because music is a beautiful thing.”

David H. Henry