Max Salman standing beside piano

Max Salman

You may hear a familiar sound on campus as upright pianos return to University grounds.

The project, known as Open Pianos in University Spaces (OPUS), was first introduced last year by Max Salman, a PhD student in the Faculty of Science. One year later, the program has grown in size, adding two more pianos (four in total), three new locations and a new partnership with the music program at Conrad Grebel University College.

Salman, who himself plays improv jazz, wanted to encourage a greater sense of community on campus and provide students with an outlet for their mental health.

“Music is one of those cardinal elements of humanity, that takes you out of a particular state of mind,” says Salman. “Whenever I feel down or troubled, I find comfort in playing the piano or listening to music.”

And Salman isn’t alone in that feeling.

The PhD student says feedback surrounding the project has been generally positive and, in some cases, reported to him as being life-saving.

“I was playing on one of the pianos and someone came up to me and was crying,” says Salman. “He said ‘these pianos saved my life.’ When I heard that, that sent me into a completely different mindset."

It’s caught the attention of others too, with passersby’s pausing to listen, play and unplug from their busy schedules. It’s also encouraged some to flex their creative muscle.

“I got an email just last week that people are now bringing more instruments,” says Salman. “I’ve heard of people bringing a harmonica, guitar and people will just jam.”

piano map

Piano locations include: architectural engineering Maker Space in CPH (indoor), south commons (outdoor), underneath the bridge between math and DC (outdoor) and the engineering quad near CPH (outdoor).

In the future, Salman hopes to bring more pianos to open spaces on campus and is calling on other members of the Waterloo community to become involved in the project. His ultimate dream is to one day host a music event where students, their families and local artists come together to enjoy a recital-of-sorts on campus.

“Waterloo is a very innovative university… and I think we need to really take advantage of the situation that we’re in,” says Salman. “I know that other universities are coming up with their own strategies to deal with mental health, but when you put pianos outside and you make it intentional that it’s for wellness, then that changes people’s perception of what this program means.”

The pianos, which rolled out May 31 of this year, will continue to be on campus throughout the summer and into the cooler months.