Keys to the City: In tune with summer

Annual event spreads music like sunshine across the county in early August

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter



Piano locations

• Mill Creek Pub, 1710 S.W. Ninth Ave., Battle Ground.

• Clark County Fairgrounds, 17200 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

• Esther Short Park, 301 W. Eighth St., Vancouver (two pianos).

• Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver.

• Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St., Vancouver.

• New Seasons Market, 2100 S.E. 164th Ave., Vancouver.

• Waterfront Promenade near Beaches, 1801 S.E. Columbia River Drive, Vancouver (two pianos).

• Westfield Vancouver mall, 8700 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, Vancouver (two pianos).

• Fort Vancouver Convalescent Home, 8507 N.E. Eighth Way, Vancouver.

Sidewalks across Clark County have become a bit more colorful, and lot more musical, thanks to the placement of some brightly adorned pianos.

There are 12 in all in nine locations, spread as far and wide as downtown Vancouver to the outskirts of Battle Ground and Ridgefield.

The purpose of the countywide installation is to provide striking pieces of art that are also playable to anyone passing by, said Julia Liudahl, administrative manager for the School of Piano Technology for the Blind. For the third year, the school has placed the pianos in areas of heavy foot traffic to attract key-ticklers of all stripes — experts and novices alike — to tap into their inner Chopin. Local artists volunteered to decorate the pianos as part of the school's Keys to the City event.

"We hope the community gets entertainment (out of this) and an opportunity to play music," Liudahl said. "Music is healing."

Each piano is different. Some are bedecked by abstract designs, while others are like miniature murals. Each one is individual, like the painter behind it or the player in front of the keys.

In front of the Vancouver Community Library, Beth Lawson's fingers danced across the keys as she played a medley of "You Are My Sunshine" and "Nearness of You." Over the occasional din of jets roaring overhead and the rumble of traffic, the notes hit the ears of library patrons.

Without the benefit of sheet music, Lawson noodled and ad libbed, rarely hitting a raw note.

Kelly McClary was watching and listening intently from a bench near the library's main entrance. She'd been drawn to the music and, as it ended, she applauded as a smile spread across her face.

"Life is too short not to listen to good music," she said.

Lawson agreed, saying she loved to play music publicly. A 25-year veteran of teaching elementary school kids how to play, she said the outdoor setting was the perfect venue to share a little aural joy.

"Anytime you can get out into the public, it's a good thing," she said.

Organizers of Keys to the City through the School of Piano Technology for the Blind say they've learned a few things from previous years, such as not starting the event too late in August. Otherwise, the pianos might be damaged by rain.

"Last year, seven out of the 11 days it was raining," said Liudahl, the school's administrative manager.

This year's event has been a smooth operation, she said, with a number of returning artists.

Natalie Andrzejeski of Sequim, on the Olympic Peninsula, is one of those artists. She's been painting pianos since the event started in 2012, when she was still living in the Vancouver area.

Her painted piano this year is called Purple Daze and is meant to represent where she is in her life. Using plenty of purple, it's intended to conjure images of the lavender fields outside Sequim.

Using a piano as her canvas poses certain challenges, Andrezejeski said. For one, it is its own work of art.

"A piano is its own integrity, and I am just enhancing it," she said.

And the same could be said of the School of Piano Technology for the Blind, she said, which enhances the lives of the students who attend it.

The pianos were all donated to the school, many having come from school music programs.

Students at the school tuned and repaired them for the project and as part of their coursework.

Since 1949, the School of Piano Technology for the Blind has specialized in training the visually impaired.

The 10-day event, from Aug. 1 through Sunday, is a benefit for the school through local sponsorships.

Through donations and sponsorships in the past two years, the school has raised $28,000.

For someone such as Lawson, the piano-playing music teacher, the opportunity to expose people to art and music is priceless.

"Music is everything. It's such an important part of our culture, our spiritual life," she said. "I don't understand how you can live without music in your life and in your soul."

Keys to the City