Michael Kishchuk plays the piano at Well-Read Books in Whitehorse. During the summer Kishchuk will be playing for tourists at different outdoor locations throughout the city. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)

Whitehorse piano project aims to tickle the ivory this summer

‘Basically this happened as a good accident’

The keys of Whitehorse’s outdoor pianos will be getting a lot of use this summer.

In less than a year the number of painted pianos set up around the city for public use has grown from zero to five.

“Basically this happened as a good accident. I just put my own (piano) out there and people started jumping on it and it created a buzz,” said organizer Grant Simpson.

Now they’ll be used in both a weekend music festival and by a summer student who has been hired to travel around the city playing for tourists.

Whitehorse’s first street piano festival is happening from June 16 to 17.

Local pianists will be at the five pianos — located at the fish ladder, the Centennial Bridge, the Yukon Transportation Museum, Horwoods Mall, and Sanchez Cantina — at 1:30, 3 and 4:30 each afternoon for a total of 30 performances over the two days.

Each set will be 40 minutes. Other than that Simpson said he gave the musicians very few instructions.

That means that depending on when someone is wandering past they might hear ragtime or classical music, a rock cover or an newly-written piece.

“We have all these pianos out. (We thought) it would be fun to hear all the Whitehorse pianists, hear them all do their thing and celebrate them a little bit,” he said.

Simpson teamed up with Angela Drainville of Whitehorse Educational Theatre, who he calls “a magician,” to organize the outdoor music.

“We’re old friends and we were having breakfast and I mentioned this to her. Then a little while later I get this email saying ‘I made this application today, we’ll see what happens.’”

After Drainville worked her magic not only did the pair get funding from the City of Whitehorse for the festival itself, they also got some money from Canada’s federal Summer Jobs Project to hire a student.

Enter Michael Kishchuk.

From now until Aug. 18, Kishchuk will be riding his bike to six Whitehorse pianos — the five outdoor instruments and the piano at Macaulay Lodge — to play every day from Tuesday through Saturday.

Kishchuck, who was born and raised in the Yukon, has been playing the piano since he was five years old.

He said he saw the job posting and thought it would be a fun way to spend a summer.

“Just the opportunity to play that much piano and be interacting with the tourists. It’s ideal.”

Kishchuck’s got a wide-ranging repertoire to choose from in terms of what he might play on any given day. He’s comfortable playing Mozart and Beethoven and is learning “The Klondike Rag” and “The March of the Gold Miners.”

Aside from practicing the piano, Kishchuck has also been busy gathering facts about the Yukon to share with tourists.

If you’re interested in learning more about the piano’s history in the North ask him to tell you about the group of sisters who paid someone to haul a piano over the Chilkoot Pass for them.

“They get to the top and customs won’t let them through and so the guy just leaves the piano up there,” he said.

“Who knows how long it stayed up there.… No one really knows but some guy carried a piano all the way up the Chilkoot Pass.”

A complete breakdown of the festival schedule as well as Kishchuck’s schedule for the summer can be found online at the Whitehorse Street Pianos Facebook page.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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