The Singapore edition of global arts movement “Play Me, I’m Yours” was a colourful collaboration between local and foreign artists, musicians and social welfare organisations. It showed how the arts can bring people together and raise awareness for social good.
BY SASHA GONZALES
PHOTOS JUSTIN LOH, THE PLAYTENT
n 2008, British artist Luke Jerram launched an art installation called “Play Me, I’m Yours” in Birmingham, England. He placed 15 pianos that members of the public could play at various locations throughout the city, like bus shelters, train stations, skate parks and laundrettes.
The pianos had a transformative effect on people. In a matter of weeks, thousands of people became “street performers”, sharing their creativity and connecting with one another through music. Since then, the project has toured internationally and reached over six million people. More than 1,300 pianos have been installed in 46 cities across the globe, all bearing the simple instruction, “Play Me, I’m Yours”.
The Playtent, an artistic space that nurtures local talent through education, decided to bring this street piano project to Singapore, but with a difference. The Singapore edition, which ran from March to June, saw 25 Singapore-based artists and 25 social welfare organisations (SWOs) working together to give 25 donated pianos a new lease of life, re-decorating them for the enjoyment of the local community.
The Playtent’s initiative was co-presented with the Singapore International Foundation (SIF). Both share the philosophy that the arts is for everyone, and has the potential to do good through connecting communities and raising awareness of the SWOs and artistic groups involved. Says Jean Low, one of The Playtent’s directors: “We just wanted to bring art and music to everyone in Singapore, and to make the arts accessible, fun, and open to everyone.”
“Play Me, Iʼm Yours” provided opportunities for people from all walks of life to bond over music as they played the pianos placed at 25 different communal spaces around Singapore.
The 25 pianos, donated by well-meaning individuals or sourced from members of the public, were installed at various locations across the island, including void decks, parks and commercial spaces. During the exhibition period, workshops and music performances by musicians, groups and students were held using the pianos, adding to the festivities and community spirit.
Some of the SWOs which participated in the project include Dignity Kitchen, a hawker-training school for disabled and disadvantaged people, and the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped, a nonprofit organisation which works with the visually impaired. Says Low: “We also wanted to provide a platform for the SWOs to showcase their members’ artistic talent. Our aim was for the artists to connect and work with the SWOs, using art as an educational tool, in hopes that they would also foster long-term relationships with these organisations or inspire others to do so.”
The Singapore edition was launched by Jerram, the Playtent and SIF at the Singapore Sports Hub on March 13, with a live recital featuring all 25 pianos. The live recital was made possible by Zhivko Girginov, a music teacher at Tanglewood Music School in Singapore.
“A project like this is a social magnet. It increases social cohesion, encourages community action, and has far-reaching effects on current and future generations.”
Zhivko Girginov, music teacher
He says: “At first I only intended to participate in a piano duet, but I couldn’t bear the thought of the other 24 pianos not being played. So at the last minute, I recruited 25 other pianists, comprising local and foreign friends, other piano teachers and their students. It was an impromptu performance; I had to quickly rearrange the music to suit both concert performers and novice students,
Girginov, who was born in Bulgaria and has been living in Singapore since 2009, says he was grateful to be part of the experience. He adds: “A project like this is a social magnet. It increases social cohesion, encourages community action, and has far-reaching effects on current and future generations.”
He also volunteered to tune and maintain all 25 pianos during the exhibition period, which gave him the opportunity to visit the SWOs and meet their beneficiaries. As a result, he says, he is now inspired to volunteer for other projects that help the less fortunate.
Jasmine Goh-Chew, a local shop owner, volunteered to be a “piano guardian” during the exhibition. “One of my customers told me about the initiative and asked if I wanted to help,” she says. “I loved the idea of being involved in an art project that encouraged community bonding, so I agreed to look after the piano outside my hardware shop.”
Music teacher Zhivko Girginov coordinating a live recital involving all 25 pianos at the launch of “Play Me, Iʼm Yours” in Singapore.
Her tasks included locking and unlocking the piano daily at designated times and making sure that information pamphlets about the project were available to the public.
By the end of the project in June, more than 160,000 people had interacted with the pianos and gained exposure to the various SWOs and artists involved.
Twelve pianos were auctioned off, with the proceeds going directly to the SWOs, while the rest were returned to the SWOs for their beneficiaries to continue playing beautiful tunes on.
THE SINGAPORE EDITION OF "PLAY ME, I'M YOURS" IS PART OF SIF'S ARTS FOR GOOD INITIATIVE.