Outdoor piano brings music downtown in Virginia community

CULPEPER, Va. (AP) – Where do pianos go when they aren’t wanted anymore?

One place now is Culpeper, which has started a program-Culpeper Keys-of positioning donated pianos outdoors around town, so anyone in the community can tickle some music out of the old ivories, day or night.

On Monday, Culpeper’s first such piano was unveiled in a ceremony beside the town’s train depot and Visitors Center, which will be the colorfully decorated piano’s new home.

In early 2020, area high-school art students competed for the chance to paint the piano in a contest devised by the town Department of Economic Development and Tourism, partnering with Culpeper County Public Schools and art teacher Marla Bell.

Jordan Wilson, then a senior at Culpeper County High School, created the winning design that appears on the public piano.

“It’s been a year since Jordan began her work and today, in celebration of National Travel and Tourism Week, we are thrilled to present this beautiful Culpeper Keys piano to Culpeper,” Tourism & Economic Development Director Paige Read said on Monday during the piano’s unveiling.

Brittany Bache, a Culpeper piano instructor and accompanist with the Blue Ridge Chorale of Culpeper, then sat at the keyboard and demonstrated what the cast-off piano was capable of.

Selecting a classical piece called “Behold the Lamb,” Bache sent trill after trill into the air, pressing nearly every key-ebony and ivory both. The arrangement by Dino Kartsonakis, composed by Dottie Rambo, musters an impressive array of chords and melodies that delighted listeners.

“This piano will live here at the Visitor Center year-round, spending the warmer months outside and the winter months indoors,” Read said.

Read is patterning the new program after those in such places as Lancaster, Pa.-which now has 14 public pianos-and Lynchburg, which has five.

“The Culpeper Keys program seeks to provide access to musical opportunity, foster creativity and build a sense of community,” she said.

Wilson, now a student at Germanna Community College, said she enjoyed designing and painting the piano.

“It was a really fun project; I’m so glad I was able to do it,” she said.

Over 2020’s COVID-19 summer, Wilson worked with a team to complete the project, including her cousin, Mia Snyder; her brother, Noah Wilson; and her mother, Paula Taschler.

“It was great,” the artist said. “There was no pressure. We could work on it whenever we wanted, so it was more of a creative release.”

Her design, titled “Thank You For Coming to Culpeper,” won out of nine entries submitted by art students during the 2019-20 school year.

The instructions for the contest were simply: “Show us what you love about Culpeper.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s explosion in the winter, organizers had to scratch their plan to display the designs during the annual Culpeper Public Schools Art Show at Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center.

Instead, Read decided to open voting for the top design online.

Voters had four designs to choose from-“Davis Street and Barn” by Amanda Doty, “Culpeper County” by Maris Teodoro, “Blue Ridge Mountains” by Naomi Colgan, and Wilson’s design.

“The winning announcement was quiet-it was May 11, and Virginia was in full lockdown,” Read said. “But that didn’t stop our artist. In fact, the lockdown provided ample space and time for Jordan to come to the Visitor Center and work independently as she brought her design to life.”

Inevitably, Read said, the piano will deteriorate in Virginia’s humid climate. “We hope to get a couple years out of it, at least,” she said.

After that, they’ll ask for another donated piano to replace it, and invite artists to come up with a new design to go on display.

Also, to give new artists more opportunity for expression, Read hopes the town can put additional pianos in other locations for public play, possibly in the town’s Rockwater Park pavilion, for example, or outside a business on Davis Street, she said.

Meanwhile, Culpeper’s first public musical instrument awaits those who might want to share a little magic with shoppers and diners downtown.

“It is here for you, for anyone who wishes to bring some music into their lives,” Read said. “Music-like travel and tourism-is powerful. It brings people together and builds communities.”

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