Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Piano Day: everything you need to know

Piano Day falls on March 29 and the hundreds of events taking place across the globe as part of it signifies a change in perception of the traditional instrument

World Piano Day encourages people to play the instrument more. Getty
World Piano Day encourages people to play the instrument more. Getty

Practically everything seems to have an official day now. Just last week you may easily have missed Tolkien Reading Day (Monday), Spinach Day (Tuesday) and Manatee Appreciation Day (Wednesday). Occasionally one of these annual celebrations makes an unforeseen impact, however, and genuinely resonates. Piano Day is doing exactly that.

“We hoped fans would make the day their own,” says its co-founder, Sofia Ilyas. “It’s been great to see that. Especially worldwide.”

The name might not suggest excitement, but Piano Day is experimental, diverse, and increasingly international. This year there are more than 80 official events taking place worldwide, and wild musical variations are encouraged; even the actual date is a little free-form.

The history of Piano Day

Piano Day officially happens on the 88th day of the year – because there are 88 keys on a regular piano. This year it falls on March 29, but the first affiliated event launched a week earlier – in Long Beach, California – while many take place this weekend. Its repertoire continues to expand, and the official schedule now extends well into April.

The popular festival has surprisingly low-key origins, though. Piano Day was dreamed up in a kitchen in Berlin, by the brilliant German composer Nils Frahm, in early 2015. He had recently made an album, Solo, using the world’s tallest piano, and decided to release it for free on “World Piano Day”. There was a snag, though. “To his surprise, he found the day didn’t already exist,” recalls Ilyas, who is also a DJ and runs her own record label and music-­focused PR agency. So Frahm “asked us what we thought about launching the day ourselves”.

Ilyas launched it weeks later, and the concept caught on. It’s now only in its fourth year and shows take place across the world, in Buenos Aires, St Petersburg, Montreal, Hanoi, Lima, Victoria, New Jersey and Tokyo. Although not in the UAE. Yet.

How to celebrate the occasion

The eclectic institution Daylight Music – an event held every Saturday lunchtime at North London’s famous Union Chapel – celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and was an eager early partner for the new day of observance. Their 2019 event sums up the day’s creative, diverse and experimental ethos: the pianos for the three young performers include “an upright, a baby grand, and a toy piano,” says the organiser, Ben ­Eshmade. One of his fondest Piano Day memories is of Russian soloist Xenia Pestova “playing the toy piano with an incredible fervour and skill”.

Over in Lisbon, Piano Day 2019 showcases two musical associates with intriguingly different approaches to the instrument. The Portuguese musician Pedro Aguia calls his work Piananimal, and mixes minimalist keys with mournful fado, plus hard rock. “The piano is just like a living animal,” he says, “with feelings, and screams.” Catherine Morisseau, meanwhile, is Parisian, classically trained, but with electronic leanings. “I personally find this initiative spectacular,” she says. “I feel that I’m part of an open and creative community, and not a closed club always in competition with each other, as unfortunately happens very much among piano players.”

One of the celebration’s prime motivations is to highlight underused pianos, and to encourage everyone to play more. In the US, Portland Piano Day has particularly embraced that mission. The organisers invite the public to play illustrious instruments in grand locations. This year that includes the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and the atrium of City Hall. “We will have everyone from a three-year-old to a few octogenarians,” says founder Ellen ­Bergstone Wasil.

A day 'full of joy'

It sounds logistically challenging, and some might wonder why people bother, but the initiative also raises money for good causes – as well as raising spirits. Recitals “are usually serious in nature,” says Wasil, but “Piano Day is full of joy”.

One of its other main goals, is to change the perception of regular classical events, says Ilyas. She also wants to attract a more diverse audience. “I’m somehow aware of my ethnicity – I’m Pakistani – when I’m the only woman of colour,” she says. “It’s always in my mind to try and attract more people from more diverse communities.”

Her own Piano Day show in London, Float Presents, certainly mixes musical cultures, as this year it includes a piano-backed beatboxer, while previous iterations featured grime crossovers and even recordings of a beehive, with piano accompaniment, to encourage bee preservation.

The final 2019 event actually happens in mid-April – it’s an experimental music festival in Potsdam, Germany, called Q3Ambientfest. “Not every piano has the same [number of] keys,” says Q3A’s organiser, Daniel Selke. “Some have 25, 64, 76, 85, 88, 96. So it’s growing more, and the idea is the important thing, not only the day.”

This event is more than just about music to those involved. In such turbulent times, Piano Day has seemingly become an oasis of welcome harmony. “That was a strong inspiration,” Ilyas adds. “That it would bring together people worldwide.”

Places in the UAE to learn to play the piano

Brooklyn Melodies Music Centre

Dubai

This stalwart UAE music institution has 24 piano teachers and lessons cater to all types of players, from five-year-olds to adult learners, no matter your ability, with a personalised approach. They offer preparation for international exams, and encourage all students to perform in recitals. www.brooklynmelodies.com

International Music Institute

Abu Dhabi and Dubai

Founded in 1994, IMI offers a range of musical services. Not only does it offer lessons by professional instructors in piano, strings, wind and percussion, it also hosts dance sessions, offers instrument repair and sells a selection of musical books. www.imig.ae

Melodica Music and Dance

Dubai

Music lessons cater to all ages and skill levels, and you’ll train for internationally recognised exams. You can also book in for a free assessment class first. www.melodica.ae

Opera Music and Arts Centre

Sharjah

Music lessons and piano skills development sessions for children as young as two years old, to adults of all ages are on offer here. Summer and winter camps are also available for the little ones, as well as courses designed for juniors and another called “Music for Little Mozarts”. Dance and arts and crafts lessons are available, too. www.operamusicarts.net

The Music Hub

Abu Dhabi

This musical institution offers children and adults beginner, intermediate and advanced lessons in piano, as well as other instruments, including clarinet, guitar and drums. They also run a glee club, as well as pre-school musical prep sessions. www.musichub.ae

Updated: March 28, 2019 04:44 PM

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