ArtPrize Public Piano Series Reflection
So this past week, I had the opportunity to try out two new things offered in Grand Rapids: the Pop-Up Performers program and the ArtPrize Public Piano installment. Both of these items are sponsored by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc, a company dedicated to bettering all facets of downtown Grand Rapids through various projects and initiatives. Simply put, the Pop-Up performer program is paid busking, where upon completing their registration process, you can book time to perform downtown at busking sites and get paid for the time spent playing. For a pianist like me, busking seemed impossible downtown, as city ordinances don’t allow for busking performers to have access to electricity (mainly due to adhering to the noise level ordinances regarding amplification). However, with the public piano placed right outside of their business, it provides a location for any musician to express their piano skills to an unexpecting public.
There were plenty of great interactions while performing on Pearl street. There were the typical crowd conversations: “Oh, what is this?” “Is this an ArtPrize entry?” “Are you entered in ArtPrize?” “Are these seats?” (referring to the clearly marked seating areas adjacent to the piano space). These questions were frequent, but fine to answer, allowing for an opportunity to talk about my music, ArtPrize in general, and the unique opportunity provided by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc to have a piano permanently present downtown. There were plenty of folks who stopped and used the seating, mainly for photo opportunities, but also to sit for any length of time and just enjoy the music. Some sat as long as 30 minutes of my 2 hour set, which definitely motivated me to engage with the listener rather than inwardly focusing on my performance. Some folks were eager to talk about music with me, mainly folks my age performing or studying music, but still great conversations about piano music from current favorite artist, how to improve their playing, and how to go about making music a more involved part of their lives beyond school and work. Two people also took it one step further and played a style of their choosing with me! One guy, Jeff, had fun playing some boogie woogie while I held down the bass line, and another, a college freshman named Nick, allowed me to switch registers to accompany his own simple, yet catchy compositions.
There were only a couple distinct, negative comments that stuck out from the interactions with people. One was a businessman, sporting sunglasses only baseball players wear, who interrupted a conversation I was having and said “Well, let’s hear it!” When I started to pick up where I was playing, I heard him laugh to his friends going “See, I told you he sounded bad!” Clearly I’ll let this one go because he comes from a place of jealousy, seeing music as the dream he never accomplished instead of the art form he could learn to participate in with other musicians. The other weird interaction was somebody who saw my setup (tip jar, JamPlay portable speaker connected to an iPhone for accompanying percussion samples, and my business cards) right next to the “Pop Up Performer” sign and said, disappointedly, “Oh, he’s just a professional…” This got me thinking, because I was wondering where she was coming from in saying such a weird comment. Did she think that by finding a busker with professional sounding piano skills she was poised to declare the next undiscovered star? Did she think “professional” equaled “pretentious attitude” and favored the more humble musician? Did she not know what she was talking about in the slightest and I am inserting opinions for her to give her the benefit of the doubt? Most likely. All in all, these two stood out only because they were such weird comments for how self-conscious I can be as a jazz pianist with my sound and performances. Another negative occurrence was the sudden cancellation of the series due to weather and improper use of the piano breaking the instrument from those who sought to play loudly in the early hours of the morning. It’s hard to understand why people would seek to ruin art and the functionality of an instrument gifted to the city is beyond me, and I hope the issue can be resolved so that musicians can get back to enjoying the piano in the space.
It was a great time performing for ArtPrize downtown! Every year with this competition I’ve experienced something new. 2013 was the year Brad Fritcher + Trois took the jazz prize for my tune “Smooth Silk” off of our debut album, 2014 was my first year as a solo entrant, and this year was my first year out of the competition but still involved in ArtPrize. I was able to do this public piano series as part of the Pop Up Performer program and play at the Michigan House with Hannah Rose Graves. Hopefully this week I can set aside time to see some of the art and catch the last encore performance of my friends in “Symphony of Gestures,” the last round of voting ends next weekend!