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Painted Pianos Bring 'Heart and Soul' to Downtown Nashua

It’s not such a surprise anymore to see towns set up pianos on downtown sidewalks with the hope of getting people to stop and play and chat with each other. More than 50 cities around the world do it and in Littleton, New Hampshire, pianos have been on the streets for the past five years.

This spring, Nashua is setting up its own project with two painted pianos on Main Street. But is anyone playing?

Janet Chaney from Hollis is. There’s not much of a crowd here on the corner of Main Street and Pearl, so she tries to draw people closer to the bench.

"Do you want to play? Would you like to sit down? Is it tuned? No, not that well."

With a little prodding, Arlette and Bob Brideau of Nashua agree to share the spotlight.

"All right, let’s do it. We’ve got one song in our repertoire," Bob says. That song, of course, is "Heart and Soul."

Down a few blocks on Main Street is a second piano — and the waft of a more intricate composition. 19-year-old Alex Webster of Pelham is playing against the city’s soundtrack of walk signals and traffic. But when the noise of a high-speed police chase flares up, he finds it hard to compete.

He pauses, but only briefly. As the discord of sirens and helicopters grows more intense, so does his music.

Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR
Rebecca Fendessen plays one of the pianos set up in downtown Nashua

Ferdinand DeGracia of Nashua walks up Main Street to get a slice of pizza. He says it’s the piano melodies – and not the raucous car chase – that stop him in his tracks.

"That’s amazing. For a person to be able to coordinate their fingers so well, it’s just mind-boggling. And I’m pretty sure chicks love it too," he says, laughing.

Sarah Roy is with North Main Music, a teaching studio in Nashua.

"Music can bring people together, and art can as well."

Music, says Roy, is like a giant icebreaker.

"If we put pianos on the streets, it will disrupt how people think about their urban experience and connect with neighbors in new ways."

Roy, along with Nashua’s Great American Downtown organization, got this project up and running. And volunteers, like Nathan Theriault and Jessica Parker, with a non-profit called Positive Street Art spent many late nights in the music studio painting the pianos.

"In a tight space with drums and two pianos, and kids learning how to sing next door. It was crazy. But we got through it. They came out great."

Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR
Onlookers listen to Alex Webster

The painters draped the piano with a marine blue background and drew cartoon-like creatures of the sea, dancing squids and jellyfish.

"We sat in front of it for about 20 minutes coming up with ideas. Summertime. Nashua. She does octopus paintings a lot and we said let’s do something we’re good at and rock it out. We rockta-pussed it out."

The keyboards bedecked with graffiti art are on Nashua’s Main Street now through October.

Improvisers are welcome. People watchers, too.

Sheryl Rich-Kern has been contributing stories for NHPR since 2006, covering education, social services, business, health care and an occasional quirky yarn that epitomizes life in New Hampshire. Sherylâââ
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