Power to the People Piano Transformation for the Piano Trail 4th – 20th September
Evaluation by Helen Reid on behalf of the wider group.
Leeds Church Institute, Leeds Citizens and Leeds Methodist Mission combined forces to engage with the cultural and community enterprise of the Leeds Piano Trail. At the outset, we were aware we had no real idea what we would be letting ourselves in for: how do you transform a piano to be part of a city centre festival? It was uncharted territory but we were ready to find out where the journey would take us.
Work began in April when we had some great online sessions with Dave Cartwright (Creative Director) and Rosie Vohra (Visual Artist) to explore how we could express our commitment to Power to the People creatively and visually.
Receiving ‘our’ piano in May felt a big responsibility and we were unsure how to transform it. Encouraged by Dave and Rosie, we didn’t worry about our lack of artistic or drawing abilities but focussed on our strengths which stem from our relationships and our passion for justice and inclusion. Kerry Prest from the Jamyang Buddhist Centre contributed practical support through offering the Centre as a temporary home for the piano and creative support through some amazing musical talent.
In August, drawing on our sharing of poetry, music, dance, storytelling and imagery we physically transformed the piano. Our printed red vinyl backdrop was designed to show the anger we feel about injustice while the ants within it illustrated the collective power that comes from many of us working together. The piano was covered with inspirational words both from our own people and Martin Luther King, a leader whose words continue to connect people and power across different communities and nations.
At the start of September, the piano was transported to Mandela Gardens which was a fantastic setting for a Power to the People piano. Once in place, it was alongside two other matching pianos that were transformed to express dialogue. During the festival, passers by stopped to play the pianos, study the designs and scan the QR codes for information as to who had transformed the pianos, why and how.
By kind invitation, four members of our group were able to experience the Leeds International Piano Competition, two attended a semi-final and two the grand final. They felt entranced by the beautiful piano playing and privileged to be part of an international musical event taking place in our own city. They shared their delight in the music with the wider group and showed us that our transformed piano was mentioned in the LIPC programme.
The final part of the transformation of our piano took place during the Piano Trail when we held two Power to the People events. At the first event, we were a gathering of poets. Some read poems by well-known poets, others shared their own words or those of a friend: some of us had never spoken poetry out loud in public, some had never had their poetry heard by people they didn’t already know. The experience of being together and sharing words about Power to the People and our reflections on the pandemic felt empowering to us. We experienced the strength that comes from being part of something so much bigger than ourselves.
At the second event, we were dancers, speakers, musicians and poets expressing our understanding of Power to the People in different ways. As the rain had finally ceased, we pleased that passers by stopped to look and listen creating a sense of community in the centre of Leeds. The event raised our spirits and brought us together in solidarity at what is a difficult time in our lives and communities due to the on-going effects of the pandemic. We felt inspired to be publicly connected to an amazing international piano competition.
At the end of both events, people made their mark on the piano by signing the banner and this was the final part of the transformation. We believe in the power of the people of Leeds to join together and bring about change for the better. The transformed piano is testament to our hope and faith.
We are pleased that after the Piano Trail was dismantled, our piano went to a local family home so that the children can learn to play and enjoy making music. We trust that the legacy of the Piano Trail is an on-going enrichment of our cultural and community life together. Thank you to the Piano Trail funded by Leeds Business Improvement District for setting us the challenge to transform a piano and be part of the festival.