New campus pianos aim to open hearts and minds

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Music is in the air at Waterloo thanks to two new outdoor pianos in front of the Dana Porter Library and the Peter Russell Rock Garden. The pianos appeared thanks to the efforts of Max Salman, a PhD student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the Faculty of Science.

“We’ve got a lot of talent here and it’s been wonderful to see it showcased,” says Salman. “People aren’t just playing the piano, but passersby are slowing down to enjoy the atmosphere. The response has been amazing.”

Salman was inspired by the Play Me I’m Yours exhibit by British artist Luke Jerram who has installed more than 1900 colorful street pianos worldwide, including Toronto.

“On campus, I often hear someone playing the piano in the QNC basement, in the morning. It’s beautiful and I thought if people saw more pianos out in the open, they could feel inspired to play anytime - at lunchtime or between classes,” says Salman.

Waterloo students may not be not known for their musical talent, but ninety-three per cent of STEM graduates report musical training at some point in their lives, according to a study by Michigan State University.

Salman, who himself plays improv jazz, says playing the piano offers him the opportunity to relax and to calm his mind from his busy schedule and intense research.

Max Salman stands in front of the latest open piano located in the Peter Russell Rock Garden.

Salman has also been hearing a lot about the issue of mental health from his fellow students and the university administration through his roles in student government, formerly as the Vice-President of the Graduate Student Association and currently as a Grad Senator on the University of Waterloo's Senate. Students have told him they would appreciate a greater sense of community on campus.

“Music connects people powerfully and is a well-known strategy for improving mental health,” says Salman. “Anybody who may not be able to express themselves in words can do so musically in a way that brings people on campus together.”

Salman has been amazed by the number of students who are pleased with this project and wish to see it continue in the future and develop into a campus-wide initiative. In addition to the positive response from students, faculty and staff have also expressed their support for this initiative.

“I mentioned the idea to a senior member of the administration and the next thing I know I get a phone call from UW Central Stores. They were eager to provide their assistance to pick up the piano from the donor’s home and install it within a couple of days. I’m grateful for the amount of care and attention they’ve shown for this initiative. And they continue to recognize and commit to fostering and strengthening a culture of wellness on campus.”

In addition to finding the donor and organizing the move, Salman has also recruited a piano tuner to maintain the pianos. Even after four weeks with just a tarp for protection from the weather, the Dana Porter piano still plays well.

“I’m hoping the UW community will get more involved in the project as time goes on. There are all kinds of opportunities for performing and bringing in artists, musicians, bands to play at these ideal venues.”

For now though, Salman is working to bring more pianos to the open spaces on UW’s campus.

“Music is an easy way to find peace, to communicate, to make new friends and to build community,” says Salman. “These pianos are open to everyone to play. I encourage anyone who wants to take advantage of this musical opportunity to uncover the piano and to share with the community your artistic talent.”

The Dana Porter piano, which arrived July 20th, was donated by Earth Science alumnus Peter van Driel (MSc Earth Sciences ‘02). The second piano was donated by a Waterloo resident. Salman would also like to thank Tony Bairos and his team at Central Stores, as well as Dennis Huber, Vice-President of Administration & Finance.

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