Street pianos to return to downtown Columbia this summer

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COLUMBIA — After a wildly popular and successful run in 2015, the Columbia Piano Technicians Guild said it plans to put a piano downtown again this summer.

It started as just an idea by guild president Steve Fair and secretary Lucy Urlacher after the two attended a piano technicians' convention.

However, by the end of its pilot run, the program was met with what Urlacher described as a "resounding success" for "piano awareness." The original donated piano at Tellers Gallery and Bar on East Broadway led to a second donated piano placed at The Heidelberg on South Ninth Street.

A complaint from offices neighboring Tellers caused the guild to remove the pianos a week earlier than expected. Originally, the key covers were screwed shut, but people unscrewed the key covers in order to continue playing. The guild then removed the keys, which drew the ire of many people on social media after it was perceived to be vandalism.

Urlacher said the guild plans to do things a little bit differently this time around.

"We learned that last year - that we have to get permission from everyone before putting it on the street," Urlacher said. "[We have] to make sure that the city knows and [all of] the property owners know. 

Richard Walls, owner of the Heidelberg and a former neighbor of Urlacher's, said he has no problem with a piano returning outside of his restaurant. The piano will begin its rotation downtown this summer at the iconic restaurant.

"I felt like it was a great addition," Walls said. "I felt like it added to the flavor of Ninth Street, and people really seemed to enjoy playing it. It's fun, people enjoy playing it, I think people enjoy listening to people playing made people happy."

One difference the Heidelberg has compared to Tellers and other downtown locations is the building is only occupied by the Heidelberg, and has fewer chances to potentially bother other businesses.

Urlacher said she would be open to adding a second piano, but having more than two pianos would be difficult for the guild to maintain. The guild plans to move the piano to a different location each month, partly in respect to business owners, but also to introduce the piano to different audiences.

"If we move it around more, then you wouldn't have one group of people always having to listen to it," Urlacher said. 

An event was held April 13 celebrating the return of the pianos, where a newly donated and painted piano was placed outside the Fine Arts Building at the University of Missouri. Various musicians from MU and passersby took part in celebration by playing the piano.

The piano was painted by MU senior Lucy Mulvihill, who is minoring in art. The piano includes depictions of a giraffe wearing headphones, vines, and the planet Jupiter.

This piano also bears other similarities to its predecessors. The first piano in 2015 was placed outside of the Fine Arts Building before being moved to Tellers that summer.

Urlacher said the piano is expected to move to the Heidelberg on May 6.