“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” – Desmond Tutu
In times of division and difficulty, the arts have power to create bridges and affirm our shared humanity. Thanks to a very special little Sing for Hope Piano on wheels, residents of East Harlem have been connecting up to share song, hope, and creative connection with Sing for Hope volunteer artists, community-members, and friends of all races, creeds, and orientations.
The Sing for Hope Piano-Mobile — a brilliantly colored art-piano-on-wheels — arrived on the streets in late June 2016, shortly after Sing for Hope’s fifth annual citywide public piano installation, which placed 50 artist-created pianos throughout NYC’s parks and public spaces for all to enjoy. The SFH Piano-Mobile played a central role in a month-long storytelling “Listening Project” in East Harlem this summer, uniting communities through shared story and song.
The piano was originally donated to Sing for Hope by the Tony Award®-winning playwright and author John Guare (The House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation, Landscape of the Body), who was introduced to Sing for Hope by opera star Renée Fleming, a founding board member of the organization. Guare’s donated piano (autographed on the inside cover by the playwright) is what is referred to as a “cottage piano” — a special instrument with 64 keys rather than the usual 88. Its diminutive size makes it ideal for navigating New York City sidewalks, and as such, the perfect instrument for this innovative door-to-door community initiative.
The piano’s artwork was created by Lindsay Stewart, a member of Sing for Hope’s 2,000-member Volunteer Artist Roster. A painter, designer, and creative director, Stewart is the founder of the popular online community Free Range Mama, which she turned to as a creative outlet following the birth of her second son. In Stewart’s words, “With paint as my music, this is my song: to promote and advocate for children’s individuality and confidence.”
This very special little Sing for Hope Piano-Mobile leverages the power of shared art to create harmony, in all senses of the word. It also celebrates the volunteer teams (made up of senior citizens and high school students) who power a “listening project,” going out in groups of twos and threes to collect stories of resilience and hope from residents living within the 25-block neighborhood of East Harlem spanning from 97th St to 106th St between 2nd Avenue and Lexington Avenue. Volunteers ask questions related to residents’ histories, observations, and dreams, and record the responses. Residents’ stories are then retold, in both spoken and musical form, at block parties on the sidewalks outside the tenements, giving neighbors a reflection of the people who live around them. The Sing for Hope Piano-Mobile is rolled from block to block and played at each event, and then housed the sponsoring social-justice-focused Church of the Living Hope, a vibrant community located on East 104th street with a 50-year history of outreach and dedication to social causes. In the words of Paula Nemerson, Sing for Hope’s Director of Programming, “This colorful art piano is a beautiful tribute to shared harmony, and to all of our musical lives. What better symbol could there be for how the arts move and connect us?”