Baby Grand Piano at Ottawa City Hall Hitting all the Right Notes
Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa
Published Friday, November 9, 2018 5:07PM EST
A fixture at Ottawa city hall is a resounding success, hitting all the right notes. The baby grand pianohas become the “go to” for kids at lunch time or pedestrians passing through. Where politics sometimes divides people, this public piano is bringing them together.
It’s a rare sight to see the piano bench empty here but it doesn’t take long before someone takes a seat and the rich sounds of music fill the air at Ottawa city hall.
Grade 12 student Aidan Prince is on his lunch break from Lisgar Collegiate.
“I always enjoy making people’s day better,” he says, “It’s always nice to see if I can make a positive change in someone’s life.”
He comes to play about 2 to 3 times a week.
“I’m self-taught. I can’t read sheet music for the life of me.”
Michael Mitchell has never taken lessons either but that doesn’t stop him.
“Even when I’m playing,” he says, “parents will go by with their children and the children are fascinated.”
The baby grand has been at city hall for 4 years when it was donated by wine writer Natalie MacLean.
For those who work at city hall on a regular basis, like Ottawa Citizen Reporter Jon Willing, that music can sometimes sound more like noise.
“Well sometimes I come to work every day and hope the piano was covered up so I can try and get some work done in peace and quiet,” he says. “Sometimes you hear the same song over and over again but sometimes you hear a really beautiful piano player and you can’t help but poke your head out the door to see who’s playing.”
The fun part, says Michael Mitchell, is that you never know what might happen at city hall.
“One time I was playing here,” he recalls, “and a couple asked me to witness their marriage.”
You also never know who you might meet, like councillor-elect Glen Gower, who has been playing piano since he was little.
“I really enjoy playing,” he says, as he skims over the keys with a flawless rendition of Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is, “and it’s a great way to great rid of some of the stress and take a break from what’s going on in the day.”
I just wanted to collect together some memories here of a very special day.
Donated piano brings music to the lobby at Ottawa City Hall
Ottawa City Hall’s lobby will be a livelier place for the holidays, now that a baby grand piano has arrived, the donation of an Ottawa woman.
Mayor Jim Watson took delivery of the piano from Natalie MacLean during a ceremony Tuesday.
Then, Chamberfest’s Jenna Richards played and the Capital City Chorus performed. Watson himself even tickled the ivories.
City Hall says you’re welcome to play the piano when you visit. There’s even a hashtag, #ottpiano, if you’d like to share your performance on Twitter.
Piano music gifted to Ottawa City Hall for the holidays
Christmas music filled the Ottawa City Hall lobby Tuesday, as a pianist played on a newly donated baby grand piano.
Ottawa wine columnist Natalie MacLean said she donated the instrument to the city because it was sitting unused at home.
“It does feel good to see it placed here and used. I was feeling so guilty looking at it at home,” she said. “It was just sitting there like a piece of furniture and it’s not a piece of furniture. It’s a gift of music and it brings people together like today.”
MacLean said she was initially hoping to donate the instrument to the National Arts Centre, but found out City Hall was looking for a piano. Last year the City found having a piano at 110 Laurier was popular with the public and so they wanted to continue the tradition from last year.
The Capital City Chorus joined Chamberfest pianist Jenna Richards in playing Christmas music on Tuesday.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson even played a few chords of Jingle Bells, noting that anybody can come in and play while they’re waiting to pay a parking ticket or get a marriage license. It can also play on its own music.
Along with the Sens Rink of Dreams and the Barbara Ann Scott Gallery, the piano helps make City Hall a “people’s place,” said Watson.
“If we can give everyone from students to seniors a chance to come and play the piano and serenade people walking through this building, I think that’s a great thing,” he said.
The city is asking piano players to share their talents on social media using the hashtag #ottpiano.
In January, the piano will be moved to the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne. It will return to City Hall for the holidays every year.
Tickle the ivories at City Hall
Wine aficionado Natalie MacLean donated a baby grand piano to the City of Ottawa.
Residents can drop by city hall during the Christmas season and play a tune and are encouraged to post their pictures on Twitter and Facebook, captioned with #ottpiano.
The piano will be moved to the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park in January.
City receives the gift of music
Ottawa – City Hall will be filled with the sound of music this holiday season, thanks to an Ottawa resident’s permanent donation of a baby grand piano.
Mayor Jim Watson received the baby grand piano from Natalie MacLean during a ceremony today at Ottawa City Hall.
“On behalf of the City of Ottawa, I am pleased to accept this generous donation from Ms. Natalie MacLean,” said Mayor Watson. “This beautiful piano is not only a gift of music to the residents of Ottawa; it is also a great addition to making City Hall a people place for all seasons.”
The opportunity to receive the baby grand came at a time when the City was looking to secure a piano for the popular Holiday Piano event where, during the Christmas season, a piano is available in the lobby at City Hall for any individual or group to play.
Natalie MacLean had originally approached the National Arts Centre to see if they were interested in a piano donation. Coincidentally, she made the offer at the same time as the City was asking the National Arts Centre to assist in locating a piano.
“Where words fail, music speaks. Whenever this piano is played in City Hall, it will express my thoughts about this gift of music,” said Ms. MacLean.
Following the presentation, Ms. Jenna Richards from Chamberfest played the piano, and the Capital City Chorus performed holiday classics.
The Holiday Piano is available in the lobby at City Hall for anyone to play. Make sure to share your musical talents on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #ottpiano. The piano will be moved to the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne in January.
For more information, visit ottawa.ca or call 3-1-1.
This letter addresses to Mayor Watson and the City Councillors was touching …
Date: Wed, Feb 11, 2015 at 7:24 PM
Subject: Could I ask for your help in sending this letter to the other councillors of the City of Ottawa?
To: Natalie MacLean <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Letter to the Honourable Jim Watson February 9th, 2015
I wanted to thank-you and to let you know what a huge difference it is making in my life, having the lovely Yamaha grand piano that Natalie MacLean donated right there in City Hall. I come to play on it regularly and have met so many incredible people right there in City Hall.
They just stop and listen and talk to me! It is a perfect gathering place for people getting together to enjoy music as a community at City Hall and it is a great place where you can make friends and acquaintances.
I want to encourage you to leave it there year round. It is the perfect location for it. I rebuild pianos and I know from experience that transporting them and putting them in different environments is very hard on them humidity changes can crack the sounding board and leave the tuning pins loose, and movers inevitably damage the case. It looks pristine the way it is right now.
I drive in town nearly every day from the West End of Ottawa to play on it and I have met such wonderful people when I share my piano playing with the folks that go by.
Even employees of City Hall have said things like, “That’s wonderful”, and “Can you come during the day too? I love to hear the music when I come out of my office”. Patrick, Faculty and Special Events Coordinator, there gave me his card and said how much my music is enjoyed by the ladies there.
I think that we, as a people, need excuses to interact with each other in order to start a conversation with each other music is a universal language. The piano at City Hall is a gathering place, and it brings beauty to the space, and class to the space there, and everyone recognizes beauty – both in the appearance of this wonderful Yamaha grand piano, and in the tonal colour and poetry of the classical music I play on it.
It draws people together – our shared humanity – something our world is in desperate need of. People walk by and they stop and they gather and they chat about it.
The idea of the piano being there is not a new concept, of course. Many places have done it. It is such a wonderful place to make new friend and communicate about music. I have so many stories I could share with you that have only come about because of Natalie MacLean’s wonderful and generous gift to City Hall.
One person, Mike, commented to me, “You can’t imagine how wonderful it is to come in to this huge City Hall, and hear Chopin! The sound fills the whole space!”
I can only hope that you will be able to leave this jewel of an instrument there in it’s present location permanently.
As for myself, at sixty-seven years if age, it’s given me a reason to live – sharing my beautiful music with others.
I remain yours, with much appreciation,
Brian (last name removed for privacy) BSc, ARCT, ORMT
I love this video below! A few days later, a local musician sits down at the piano to take his turn. Don’t be alarmed when he starts singing the rather raucous cover song from the rock band ACDC’s Thunderstruck album. He’s an execellent piano player ;)
Then Mayor Jim Watson joins him, and together they play the tune “Don’t Mess Around with Jim” … cute!
From his site:
“A few people contacted me last week with the news that there was a baby grand piano recently donated to Ottawa City Hall. It’s there in the lobby for anyone to play. I decided to head down there yesterday and play a song or two for my song of the day challenge. When I got there, the City staff were having a holiday lunch and the place was quite noisy. So I tried to think of a song that would be even louder…”
THE SOUNDTRACK TO CITY HALL
July 31, 2015
“The acoustics in here are fantastic!” says an enthusiastic Brian King. He’s not talking about the NAC, or Dominion Chalmers United Church. It’s the baby grand piano at Ottawa City Hall that’s got Brian coming downtown nearly every day from his Carlingwood home.
Since the piano was donated to the City of Ottawa in 2014, music has become a fixture of life at Elgin and Laurier. From stark beginners to lifelong players like Brian, Ottawans of every skill level are welcome to play.
For Brian, though, this piano is more than just an instrument available for practice. “It is a perfect gathering place for people getting together to enjoy music as a community at City Hall,” he says. It links people who might not have crossed paths otherwise, and not just performers and music buffs.
“Everyone recognizes beauty,” he says, “both in the appearance of this wonderful Yamaha grand piano, and in the tonal colour and poetry of the classical music I play on it.”
At 67, Brian has retired from his career as a piano teacher, but the learning hasn’t stopped. The piano at City Hall has brought about a new chapter in Brian’s life. He’s thriving, completely energized by the opportunities he now has to meet others and sometimes collaborate.
“I learn from other musicians here, and I think they learn from me too,” he says. Singer Thera Barclay agrees. She’s a recent graduate of Wilfred Laurier University’s voice performance program, and she met Brian at City Hall after she returned home to Ottawa this spring. It didn’t take them long to start practicing together. In addition to meeting up at City Hall, lately they’ve been performing together in the evenings at retirement residences around Ottawa.
Listening to this duo perform will give anyone chills. When Brian takes to the keys to accompany Thera’s powerful voice, the sound rises up all five floors of City Hall. The effect often stops passers-by right in their tracks and they pause to appreciate the song until the last note. When people take the time to introduce themselves and chat with them about the music, Brian’s face lights up. That, he says, is what the piano at City Hall is all about.
December 15, 2015
Take a stroll through Ottawa City Hall around lunch time on any weekday and you’ll hear Aiden Prince tinkling the ivories on the glossy grand piano in the main foyer by the information desk.
You may have trouble naming that tune unless you’re a gamer or have one in the house.
Prince takes his repertoire from the music of the video games he likes to play — everything from The Legend of Zelda to The Elder Scrolls to Tetris.
“I really like the video songs, they are epic, they are amazing and they are fun to play,” said Prince, who is a 14-year-old student in the gifted program at Lisgar High School.
Prince taught himself to play by watching YouTube and working out tunes on his family’s unused piano.
“Ever since I saw the piano at city hall I thought, oh my god, what a piano, I want to play it,” said Prince. “But one day I asked the lady at the desk if I was allowed to play it and when she said yes I hopped on without hesitation.”
Aiden’s father Michael Prince says the music has helped his once introverted son come out of his shell.
December 27, 2015: Grace notes: City hall’s baby grand piano was supposed to stay a few weeks. A year later, it’s a permanent fixture.
Brian King could play the upright piano in his Carlingwood-area home. But he prefers the baby grand at city hall so much more that he makes the trek downtown almost every day.
It’s hit-or-miss. Sometimes when King arrives, the piano is locked and he has to go home. Sometimes his performance — Chopin and Debussy are among his favourites — invites questions from passersby, and he’s happy to provide advice. A piano teacher since 1964, King says coaxing the music out of the piano, making it sing, is a matter of relaxed arms and wrists.
“You’re trying to make the piano be a singer. It breathes like a living organism. Sink gently into the key.”
The piano arrived at city hall in December 2014, a gift to the city from wine columnist Natalie MacLean, who had first approached the National Arts Centre to see if it was interested in the donation. By coincidence, the city was making inquires at the National Arts Centre about a piano it could make available to people who don’t mind playing for a passing audience.
The piano, a Yamaha, was valued at $65,000 and tuned five times a year at a cost of $141.25 for each tuning. It’s such a fine instrument that it can make a pair of novices stuttering through Heart and Soul sound good. The piano was installed in the main hallway on the main floor, a shortcut often taken by pedestrians taking a shortcut between Laurier Avenue and Lisgar Street.
The original plan was to keep it at city hall for the holiday season, then relocate it to the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park.
“But then the piano arrived. And it became a very popular thing,” said Dan Chenier, the city’s senior manager of parks, recreation and culture.
A year later, the piano is in the same spot and the city is looking for a second piano for the Horticulture Building. The city hall piano has become a fixture, open from early in the morning to 11 p.m. unless there’s an event going on in the reception space nearby. Lisgar Collegiate students stop at lunch or on their way home to play a few tunes. Prom-going teens have their photos taken on the glossy bench. Musicians post performances under the piano’s hashtag #ottpiano.
Not all city hall workers appreciate being serenaded. It’s not unusual for doors to slam when the piano starts at mid-day. There are no posted rules about using the piano, but if it’s disturbing people, players are asked to pipe down.
“People hosting a reception are not expecting to have Elton John playing in the background,” says Chenier.
In fact, Elton John is rarely played at city hall. Chopin’s Nocturne is a common choice. So is Beethoven’s Für Elise, Schubert’s Ave Maria and Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. On the popular music side, there’s Leonard Cohen, Coldplay, more recently the soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the occasional Stairway to Heaven.
Nicole Bowen, who owns the Happy Bird Music Studio in Westboro, urges students who are preparing for a recital or an exam to practise on the city hall piano. Most piano students practise on digital instruments or upright acoustic piano. Playing an instrument of this quality is a different and rare experience, she says.
King often leaves sheet music in the bench for others to discover. Sometimes when he’s at the keyboard, he loses track of time and pays the price in parking tickets. But it’s all worthwhile, says King, who retired five years ago.
“When you can create the colour that this piano is capable of, it’s amazing. It’s so clear in the treble, and it has power in the bass.”
Keenan Reimer-Watts often practises on the piano Sunday mornings. The sonatas of the Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti are favourites of his because of the way they shift through emotions. “It shows you that people haven’t changed. If you think that people have evolved over 400 years, they haven’t,” he says.
Reimer-Watts started playing piano as soon as he could sit at his parents’ old upright. When he heard Canadian pianist and composer Oliver Jones for the first time, he realized that he had found his calling. He studied music performance and composition at Wilfrid Laurier University, and started looking for a place to practise when he arrived in Ottawa about a year ago. The hall piano offers both a superior instrument and the space that gives the music resonance and depth, he says.
“The acoustics in here are amazing.”
Practising can be lonely at home, but this piano has created a community of music lovers. Mike Myers, an engineer who works downtown, discovered the city hall piano a few weeks ago.
Myers’ favourites are Chopin and Bruce Springsteen. “I’m just a big Springsteen fan. Nothing like Roy Bittan on piano,” says Myers, who took piano lessons a long time ago, but plays by ear and finds the sheet music unhelpful. He bases his interpretation on vintage performances posted on Youtube.
Myers travels often for work and has found that many large hotels have pianos, but they’re often locked.
“This place leaves it open as the default,” he says. “This is the best accessible piano in the city.”