Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pianos, Pianos and More Pianos

    Frank Sinatra sang that he “wants to wake up in a city that never sleeps…” and he was, of course, singing about New York City. If he were around today, he could satisfy that wish right here in good old Lancaster, PA, the town of a thousand pianos. Well, not actually a thousand. It only sounds that way at 2:30 in the morning.

    This city keeps patting itself on the back for all the wondrous expansion of the Arts and artistic endeavors. Has no one stopped to consider that sounds made by a musical instrument are not necessarily music, not necessarily Art. Any ignorant slug can sit at a keyboard and pound on the keys and make sounds, repetitive sounds, the same two chords played over and over and over, punctuated with banging rhythms incorporated as part of the non-concert.

    This has improved the city how? Even if a world famous concert pianist sat at the instrument and performed all the world’s best concertos, would that make the uninvited musical selections more welcome if those sounds invaded my space where I could control neither the choice of music nor the sound level while trying to practice my singing or my pennywhistle or my trombone or simply listen to music of MY choice.

    According to a press release from Music For Everyone, a non-profit charitable organization in Lancaster [PA], the pianos placed at a dozen locations throughout the city for the "Keys For The City" program are to “provide access to musical opportunity, foster creativity and build a sense of community”. Hah! What community sense is developed in the middle of the night by some drunk wannabe concert pianist who doesn’t know a musical fifth from a liquid one?

    That press release also touts the fact that the dozen pianos are “accessible to the public 24/7...” The city’s noise ordinance 198-4 B (1)(a) specifically prohibits operating “Radios, television sets, musical instruments and similar devices…At any time in such a manner as to cause a noise disturbance across a property line OR between the hours of 9:00 PM and 8:00 AM so as to be plainly audible across a property line.” [Lancaster City Police have noted the Capistrano-like return of the pianos and will respond, if called, to any late night keyboard banging. The pianos may be accessible 24/7 but it is NOT legal to play them 24/7.]

    The release goes on to say, “Whether people stop by to play a few notes or an entire piece, there will be thousands of magical, musical moments that will occur around those pianos this summer. This project is a literal expression of what this organization is all about – Music For Everyone.”

    I am a musician though not currently involved professionally. I had my “awareness of music” aroused while young in a more traditional manner — not by disturbing the peace on a street corner. I love music. I love piano music. I love jazz. I love van Cliburn, Rudolph Serkin, Vladimir Horowitz, Dave Brubeck, Hugh Laurie, Saint Elouise and countless other pianists. Even I own a keyboard which I enjoy making sounds with in the PRIVACY of my home. I inflict my sounds on no one else.

    I particularly love being able to choose what I am going to listen to or which instrument I will play. With street corner plinking sounds, whether melodic or discordant, penetrating my space almost all day, almost every day, I cannot change the channel or adjust the volume. It is, in short, a most unwanted, unwarranted intrusion into my space! It’s like being an involuntary resident of a piano practice room.

    What exacerbates the noisiness of this neighborhood seems to involve an acoustical anomaly similar to the whispering corners in the US Capitol building or the grottoes of Syracuse, Sicily, probably because of a natural amphitheatre effect formed by the curves of the alcove beneath the downward spiraling exit ramp from the Prince street parking garage where the one near my home is located.

    Other architectural aspects of this neighborhood include the amplifying effect of the open space in front of the convenience store across the street and the parking lot of a tire store across the other street. Sidewalk conversations seem to be occurring immediately outside the window rather than at the 50 feet or more distance where they are actually occurring.

    Add to this mix a 75 horsepower car with a 300 horsepower CD player at the stop sign just below my window waiting for traffic all the while blaring some rap lyrics through a blown speaker in a language I don’t speak while displaying a red, white and blue non-American flag with a vanity plate declaring the beauty of some place not in the continental USA.

    Think I’ll go to the club. At least there, for a buck or two, I’ll be able to choose the noise.
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