Old Pianos Bring New Life to City Streets

Street piano is one man's savior

They're not always perfectly tuned. You won't find them in most music stores, and they look nothing like what their manufacturers originally intended. They're often called street pianos, and you're about to see a lot more of them around San Diego.

The imperfections are exactly what Bernard "Bobby" Buna loves about the brightly yellow-painted piano sitting on concrete outside a building in National City.
"It calls me all the time. I don't feel right if I don't get to play it at least once a day." he says. "It brings me up."

And there are days he needs a little boost. Buna lives on the streets in National City.

"Sometimes you get to that point where you don't want to move on, don't want to go on. This (piano) is my savior."

The piano he plays is available for anyone to play, anytime. For more than two years it's been sitting outside the building that used to be the National City Library, but now houses a nonprofit by the name of ARTS (A Reason to Survive).

"I absolutely love when people come play," says Sean Conway the music director for ARTS, "It's a huge asset." Conway says he's working with National City to find other places to put more pianos.

"Free pianos are really easy to find on Craigslist." he says. Moving them is the trick.

The idea of putting pianos outside in public places is not new, but it is gaining momentum around the world. One of the more well known examples started in London back in 2008. An exhibit was commissioned and titled "Play me, I'm Yours." which were the words printed or painted on every piano. The exhibition is still going today with more than 1,400 pianos placed in more than 49 cities around the world.

The San Diego symphony is getting ready to launch its own version during a month-long piano festival starting in January. As part of the "Upright and Grand" event, 10 pianos have been given to artists and community groups around the county to paint, or transform in some way.

The pianos will then be set in public places around the county with the majority of them downtown. After the exhibit ends, organizers say the ten pianos will be donated to various community groups. ARTS is one of the groups working on one of the those pianos.

As for that yellow piano Bobby Buna plays every day, he says it's more than an instrument for making music. He says it gives him a reason to keep going.

"I found my passion," he says. "I just bring this piano to life, you know."

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