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How pianos became part of the furniture at UK railway stations

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How pianos became part of the furniture at UK railway stations

Image copyright Phil Coomes The sound of someone tinkling the ivories has become commonplace at UK railway stations. But who plays them, what is their appeal and how did the trend take hold?Every Monday and Friday, Denis Robinson, 92, makes the 30-minute trip from his home in Sutton, south London, to St Pancras International station,…

How pianos became part of the furniture at UK railway stations

Denis Robinson plays at St Pancras stationCharacterize copyright
Phil Coomes

The sound of somebody tinkling the ivories has modified into long-established at UK railway stations. But who performs them, what’s their enchantment and the blueprint did the vogue resolve lend a hand?

Every Monday and Friday, Denis Robinson, 92, makes the 30-minute time out from his home in Sutton, south London, to St Pancras International dwelling, in the heart of the capital.

His final destination: an real piano tucked below a staircase on the dwelling concourse, opposite the arrivals door the attach holidaymakers from the world over sprint away the high-go Eurostar put together.

Denis is one of Britain’s amateur railway dwelling pianists. A minor large name, following a viral performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow with West Discontinue singer Ceili O’Connor in April, he has been delighting commuters with his dangle preparations of nostalgic hits for seven years.

Denis Robinson plays at St Pancras stationCharacterize copyright
Phil Coomes

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Denis Robinson has met other folks from across the globe by playing the piano at St Pancras dwelling

He goals to attain at the piano stool either aspect of lunch. Breaking with custom to meet BBC News midweek, he takes his pew by 11: 30am on a Wednesday.

Within moments of his opening chord, passing travellers quit to listen to, smile and offer him praise.

“It’s an absolute joy,” says the retired auditor, who has been playing since he used to be a baby. “I practically continuously near home with a memory to shriek my wife.

“I’m lucky because I’ve got an ever-altering appreciative target audience.”

Denis suffered a stroke at the dwelling in August, which affected his left hand, but it surely wasn’t long till he returned to the instrument in autumn for a rendition of As Long as He Wishes Me, sung softly to himself.

“After I walked round to the piano yet again, there used to be factual this sense of ‘I’m assist’,” he says.

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Media captionDenis Robinson acknowledged he used to be “amazed” as Ceili started singing

There are two pianos at St Pancras, positioned at either discontinue of the dwelling’s main arcade of outlets. Denis credit ranking his wife of 34 years, Diane, for introducing him to the one he performs.

She used to be finding out Greek at the nearby British Library when it used to be donated to St Pancras in 2012, following a 3-week artwork mission that placed so-known as motorway pianos at public locations round London.

While Sheffield is mostly cited because the home of the main motorway piano, the basis for the St Pancras pianos used to be the brainchild of British artist Luke Jerram, whose Play Me, I’m Yours mission has been touring cities round the world since 2008.

The blueprint sees 2d-hand pianos installed in public locations, with an open invitation to play. Every piano is odd, most continuously decorated by native artists or community groups.

A girl plays a piano installed in Bristol's Broadmead in 2009Characterize copyright
PA Media

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Bristol used to be one of the crucial main cities to resolve piece in Luke Jerram’s Play Me, I’m Yours mission in 2009

A woman plays a piano in New York in 2010 for the Play Me, I'm Yours projectCharacterize copyright
Getty Photos

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The blueprint has placed more than 1,900 pianos in cities globally

“I realised within a city, there desires to be a entire bunch of invisible communities, normally spending time with one one other in silence,” Luke explains.

“Putting a piano into the home used to be my solution to this topic, acting as a catalyst for dialog.”

Quite so much of diversified pianos that were placed in London railway stations in 2012 additionally ended up staying place aside after Luke’s mission ended, along with two at Canary Wharf and one at Herne Hill.

And it be now no longer factual proficient amateurs which dangle taken to the keys. World stars such as Sara Bareilles and Sir Elton John, who donated a Yamaha piano to St Pancras in 2016, dangle additionally given public performances.

Elton’s signed piano, restful at the dwelling, reads: “Skills this piano. It’s a gift. Love, Elton John.”

Presentational white space

Inspired by the success of the St Pancras pianos, diversified groups dangle long gone on to set up their dangle at railway stations round the nation.

There are truly at the least 34 pianos accessible to play on dwelling concourses.

Labour MP for Hove Peter Kyle lobbied for a piano at Brighton dwelling in 2014 in the hope that it might well perhaps probably “slash assist the misery” of time spent at the terminal.

Ten months later, with the sprint-ahead from Southern Rail, the dwelling’s first piano arrived from native dealer Brighton Piano Warehouse, painted in circus-style crimson and yellow with “Please Play Me” emblazoned above the lid.

While the instrument has been replaced twice resulting from place aside on and toddle, a piano has been at the dwelling ever since.

Mikah at Brighton stationCharacterize copyright
Julia Horbaschk

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Mikah Laiberg performs Brighton dwelling’s piano in ruin day from his job as a motorway cleaner

Brighton and Hove Council motorway cleaner Mikah Laiberg, 28, has made a bizarre study the instrument from the outset – at one point rehearsing on it each day after work.

“It’s a compulsion,” he says. “I can no longer know the blueprint these that might well play an instrument can scuttle past without playing it.”

Clips shared on-line present Mikah, in his worker high-vis jacket and boots, beautiful passers-by with his classical improvisations influenced by composers such as Alexei Stanchinsky.

Presentational white space

Such videos, of on a conventional basis other folks showcasing their expertise, dangle arguably played a key feature in the success of public pianos.

Freeway pianos emerged round the an analogous time because the smartphone – the main iPhone used to be released in 2007 – making performances more and more uncomplicated to doc and fragment.

Now, videos of pianos being played present namely widespread on YouTube.

In August, Alicia Palmer, 16, wowed the net along with her rendition of Edelweiss at Tottenham Court Freeway’s piano alongside public piano player Brendan Kavanagh – gaining more than 750,000 views on the placement.

Selhurst station pianoCharacterize copyright
Phil Coomes

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Public pianos are most continuously brightly painted by native artists or community groups

‘Life and color’

Selhurst is one of several limited stations in London with a public piano.

Hannah Sayers, 34, and her native other folks community organized for a piano to be placed there in 2018.

Donated by Hannah’s neighbour and painted by a native resident, it might well perhaps probably, they hoped, “reduction other folks feel sure about the attach they reside”.

“We desired to shriek existence and color to our tiny ward in Croydon,” Hannah says.

Selhurst’s piano is conveniently positioned with regards to the BRIT school, for performing arts students to play, and has a astronomical passing website online visitors of commuters and Crystal Palace soccer followers.

“The one ingredient we were truly disquieted about used to be that it might well perhaps probably salvage damaged or vandalised,” provides Hannah, “But it surely hasn’t been up to now.”

Hannah and Becky with Selhurst pianoCharacterize copyright
Phil Coomes

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Hannah Sayers, left, and her good friend Becky, correct, dangle additionally organized a guide swap at Selhurst dwelling

Neighbouring Thornton Heath dwelling lately installed its 2d piano after a water leak damaged its customary instrument.

Native resident Linda Watson calls it a “community asset”. She provides: “Thornton Heath has many good musicians. To dangle reside music must you are travelling is a relaxing shock.”

‘Feel-just ingredient’

Meanwhile for Malcolm Ingram, of Ingram’s Removals, inserting a piano in Darlington Bank Top dwelling used to be a skill to put an unwanted instrument.

Pianos, as soon as the entertainment hub of the household home, dangle long been in decline.

Some 5,000 are sold yearly, the Financial Times reviews, compared with 30,000 in the 1980s. Malcolm says customers are normally taking a look to salvage rid of their extinct pianos.

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Malcolm Ingram, Jill Robinson and her daughter Katie Robinson at the Darlington pianoCharacterize copyright
Dave Charnley

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Malcolm Ingram, left, installed a piano at Durham dwelling quickly after Darlington

Malcolm Ingram, Sam Gilmoura and Brigid McElroy at the Darlington pianoCharacterize copyright
Dave Charnley

In 2018, he had a brainwave and organized for a shopper’s Hemingway piano to be relocated to the dwelling concourse, the attach it is now cherished by workers and passengers.

“A piano brightens up other folks’s day – if somebody has the gift to play it, it provides that feel-just ingredient,” he says.

“The piano used to be factual going to must sprint to landfill in any other case, which looks criminal.”

Speaking at the discontinue of his performance in St Pancras, Denis says his repertoire of extinct-time classics are a fixed hit with audiences.

“The songs shriek assist memories for any other folks, so they near over and train thanks,” he says.

“The music I play, it be uncomplicated truly. It’s a blessing to explore that I can present happiness.”

Photography by Phil Coomes, Dave Charnley and Julia Horbaschk

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