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St. Helena's Street Piano returns to Lyman Park

St. Helena's Street Piano returns to Lyman Park

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After Mike Greensill stood up from the St. Helena Street Piano, Haven Chouteau took a seat and played the opening notes of John Williams’ instantly recognizable “Star Wars” theme.

Chouteau is 11. Greensill was touring Europe as a jazz pianist before Chouteau’s parents were even born.

Supporters say that’s the magic of the Street Piano. It bridges generations and cultures with the universal language of music.

Friends of the Street Piano gathered Tuesday to celebrate its official 2021 grand opening. The piano will be in front of Lyman Park until October, when organizer Bill Ryan will put it back in storage for the rainy season.

Ryan got the idea after visiting Boston, which had 60 street pianos. When he brought the idea to St. Helena, it was new even to music man Craig Bond, director of the St. Helena Choral Society and retired choral instructor at the St. Helena Unified School District.

“I didn’t know it was a thing, but then it turns out it is a thing in lots of major cities,” Bond said. “When you hear something like this when you’re walking down the street, you have to stop and take a moment out of your tremendously busy life to relax and enjoy some music.”

The first piano was donated by Barbara Lyle of Napa. Ryan credited “piano doctor” Terry Miller for arranging the gift and tuning the piano. Kendra Kelperis, art teacher at RLS Middle School, enlisted her students to paint it.

That piano was damaged beyond repair by a vandal in 2018. Ryan found the current one at St. Helena Primary School. This time music and choir director Alba Gonzalez-Arredondo recruited a few of her students to paint it.

Ryan said he was recently given a third piano that’s next in line in case something happens to the current one.

Then-Mayor Alan Galbraith was a big supporter of the project when Ryan launched it in 2017. He recalls "it took a village" to move the project forward, with help from then-planners Noah Housh and Lilly Bianco and support from then-Police Chief Bill Imboden.

"Then there are the volunteers involved in acquiring the piano, moving the piano, painting the piano, tuning the piano, making a base for the piano, storing the piano, and, not unimportantly, providing funds for the project," Galbraith said. "Let us especially admire the handiwork of the talented student painters who decorated the piano now before us.

"As we look back and look forward, what mostly comes to mind is the joy the piano brings to players and listeners alike. This makes for some of the best people photography in the city."

Greensill, who was largely limited to Zoom performances during the pandemic, clearly enjoyed a rare public performance, playing “Wonder Why” by Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn, followed by a jazzy rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in honor of the first-place San Francisco Giants.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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