Piano man invites Whitehorse residents and visitors to tickle the ivory

Plans to put pianos in public spaces would Whitehorse on par with cities around the world

Local entertainers, prepare your sheet music.

The streets of Whitehorse could become home to a small platoon of painted public pianos if the latest project by local musician Grant Simpson gets off the ground.

Simpson has started working with local companies and visual artists hoping to put brightly-coloured pianos around the city this summer that would be free for anyone to play.

“I think it will be really nice. I think there will be music all over town and it will allow people to busk and jam together,” he said.

Part art project and part musical opportunity, the idea for Whitehorse Street Pianos has been on Simpson’s mind for years.

It started getting some traction last month after he bought an apartment-sized upright piano for $500 for one of the city’s online shopping groups.

Artist Shauna Jones agreed to use her considerable talents to paint the instrument.

“I was just thinking that I’d bring it out every once and a while and sit down and play it,” he said.

“Then I’d leave it there when I’m not there and put it in at the end of the day, or something. (It was going to be) just a totally personal project.”

Last week he put out a call on his personal Facebook page to see if any other artists would be interested.

The community responded almost immediately.

“I wondered if anybody was going to ‘like’ the post but people seem to really like the idea.”

Simpson said he’s already heard about two more pianos and has been contacted by one company interested in sponsorship.

“More than anything what I’m doing right now is I’m facilitating individuals to do it. I’ve been gathering places where we can store them in the winter.”

The first piano could be ready by the end of the month.

Simpson doesn’t want to reveal where that piano is going to be located. It will be up to the company that’s sponsoring and hosting the instrument to make that public, he said.

If Simpson manages to strike the right chord Whitehorse will become the latest in a long line of international cities with pianos available for public performances.

The popular “Play Me, I’m Yours” project began in Birmingham, U.K. in 2008. Fifteen pianos were placed across the city for three weeks that year. More than 140,000 people were estimated to have played or listened to music, according to organizers.

“Since then, more than 1,500 street pianos have been placed in 50 cities, which have been played and listened to by more than 10 million people worldwide,” says the organization’s website.

Play Me I’m Yours generally is presented in a city for two to three weeks. After that, pianos are usually donated to schools and community groups in the area.

Simpson’s project will be different. The Whitehorse pianos would be hosted by local companies throughout the summer and brought in from the elements at night.

He’s hoping to eventually host a ragtime festival.

Simpsons said he wants projects like his to contribute to Whitehorse tourism.

“We have tourism that focuses on the Yukon and we have a lot of tourism marketing that focuses on Yukon adventure especially. That’s where all the focus has gone over the last few years,” he said.

Instead of having Whitehorse-specific tourism campaigns, the city relies on general Yukon government campaigns to attract tourists, Simpson said.

“But YTG does Yukon tourism. So somewhere in that mix Whitehorse has been totally left out and it’s left up to the private businesses right now.”

The pianos could attract more people specifically to downtown, he said.

“I think this is a good start. I think it would bring some pride to what we’re doing downtown.”

Anyone who wants to help or who has a piano they would be willing to part with for the project can reach Simpson at whitehorsepianos@gmail.com

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com