A Piano for Your Thoughts


Piano in the SquareI was pretty sure I was hearing piano music. Chopin.

But there were lots of logical points going against this possibility. For one thing, it was 7:40 a.m. on a drizzly Monday in September. Nobody ever plays a piano on Monday morning. Second, and this is a biggie, I was in Hlavní Nádraží, Prague’s main station. The only things prevalent in Hlavní on Monday morning are miserable commuters and the occasional bum fight.

Moreover, in my late 30s and with hedonistic habits, a stroke wasn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility. And my propensity for daydreaming sometimes creates a worrying blur between reality and Walter Mitty.

But sure enough, as I rounded the corner, there was an old man tapping out one of Chopin’s Nocturnes. His briefcase was leaning against the piano and his bag of shopping was under the bench. He hummed along with the music as he played. I wanted to poke him to see if he was real.

I resisted this urge.

Living in Prague, you sometimes see weird things. For a while, there were multi-colored cows all over the city. There is a television tower covered in crawling faceless babies – as though the image was plucked directly out of one of my nightmares. There are the African sailors who sell people rides on boats. There were elephants in Prosek. And for a while there was a giant middle finger in the Vltava River telling the president exactly what some people think of him.

But a piano in the main train station was really new. And every morning or afternoon as I passed through the station there was someone else at the piano. They were old and young, men and women, tinkling away at some song they had learned, some song they probably didn’t want to learn in the first place. But now they were playing it with their tongues stuck between their teeth and their backpacks under the bench. And the commuters passing by were smiling and bopping their heads unconsciously to these tunes as they went about their daily business.

And it didn’t stop there. Soon, there were two pianos in the main train station, and then these pianos started popping up everywhere. They were at Lazarská and at Staromestská. And there was a piano at Naměstí Míru and another one on Kampa Island. And pretty soon you could see a policeman tapping away Yiruma and a homeless guy pounding out some Brahms. And then there was a spontaneous dueling pianos concert as I caught the last metro home one Thursday night. One evening, in a mildly tipsy state, I even thought about playing the one and only song I can play on the piano, but ultimately decided that Prague’s main station wasn’t the right venue for the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Now, due to mid-December cold, there are only a couple of pianos left. There’s still one in Hlavní Nádraží and I think there’s the one near Charles University. I guess the students will be able to release their exam woes by pounding on the ivories.

The man who came up with the idea, Ondrej Kobza, said he just wanted to see what would happen if he stuck a bunch of pianos around the city. He said that when he first brought the idea up, people looked at him as though he was crazy.

It might be crazy, but I’ll take pianos to faceless babies any day.

  1. #1 by Tiffany N. York on December 12, 2013 - 6:03 pm

    Just one of the many reasons why I miss living in a cultured city. All I ever see out of the norm here in the suburbs are a few people holding up “Impeach Obama” signs in front of the post office.

  2. #2 by greg galeone on December 12, 2013 - 8:24 pm

    don’t you love people like mr kobza-i sure do.

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