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Senior Samantha Edwards poses next to a street piano she painted on Ninth Street in Columbia, Mo.

Courtesy of Sarah Leituala

Street pianos strike a chord in Columbia

One MU student's art project has inspired the piano man in all of us.

By Bianca Rodriguez | Sept. 23, 2015

Tags: Art Music The District

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You see them every day and have passed them on the sidewalk countless times.

Most of the time, the seat is taken by a professional playing a tune that is easy to recognize, and other moments are filled with rookies pressing certain keys one by one.

Yet all players of the keys can agree on one thing: When you play on the street pianos in Columbia, you have to play it loud and play it wild.

Senior Samantha Edwards says she wanted just that when she painted both of the street pianos this past year.

When asked how her passion for art started, Edwards explains that most of her childhood memories revolve around art, and by the time she was in the fifth grade, she knew she wanted to be a children’s book illustrator.

She would soon be able to have that opportunity to showcase some of her talents when students of the art school were emailed about a volunteer opportunity. The email asked if any art student wanted to volunteer to paint a worn down piano that was donated by a local resident, Edwards says.

Many responded quickly to the request to paint the pianos. Lucy Urlacher, an MU piano tuning technician and member of the Columbia piano guild, was stuck on who to choose for the position. To make it simple, she chose the very first person that emailed back: Edwards.

“I wasn’t really nervous about the aspect that it would be on display because when you’re in art school long enough you stop feeling, stop caring about the fact that people will be looking at your work eventually,” Edwards says on her first feelings of the project.

She was really concerned about the budget of the project, transportation, supplies and if she could get it done in a week’s time. To her surprise, she finished the first piano, “Play it Loud,” in a couple of days.

When asked where the “Play it Loud” inspiration came from, Edwards says, “My high school art teacher used to say this thing in art school, ‘If you can’t draw something well, draw it big.’ And so I thought a lot of people are gonna sit down at this piano and never have really performed, or aren’t performers and if you can’t play it well, play it loud.”

Edwards says it is exciting to walk by and see people playing the pianos and being able to contribute to the art community since she has no musical bone in her body whatsoever.

Mandie Phipps, Edwards’ close friend, help paint the second piano that following summer. It’s called “Play it Wild” and is located outside the Heidelberg restaurant closer to campus.

When the piano was completed, Edwards wrote #comostreetpiano on “Play it Wild” so she could see the many Instagram posts of the piano.

“It’s a good way to expose people to different ideas about art and music,” Edwards says.

She says with the pianos that she is able to provide an educational environment to everyone while also being able to spread cultural awareness at the same time, which is something she wishes to pursue more when she moves back to Kansas City after the fall semester.

If given the chance again, she says she would paint another piano in a second because the opportunity was definitely the highlight of her college experience. The pianos have spread piano awareness and inspired people of all ages to play it loud and wild, which is exactly what Edwards hoped to accomplish.

“Anybody can be a performer in Columbia now on the street and anyone can be an audience to a show, so I really like that aspect of it,” she says.

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