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On Sunday 15 June, contemporary pianist Sam Beste will be premièring Matthew Herbert’s new piece 20 Pianos as part of our Summer Festival 2014. The piece will consist of recordings and samples remixed and reassembled to reveal the many stories these pianos have to tell. One of these pianos will come from East London but it’s up to you to decide which one… Read the short stories below and get voting!
The travelling piano
Since being built in Kentish Town, this Cramer grand has travelled many miles across the UK. It moved to Cardiff Castle before becoming a theatre pit piano then spent 20 years in a practise room at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. In 1995, it returned to London where it was stretched to the limits with contemporary repertoire including preparations for works by Crumb and Cage. After a brief spell in Hackney, the piano now lives in Walthamstow where it’s used to rehearse with 6-piano ensemble Piano Circus.
The war-time vintage piano
If you’ve ever ventured down into the crypt of Shoreditch Church, you may have spotted an old and decrepit stand-up piano lurking in the shadows. This piano was played in communion services throughout the war and to maintain morale while bombings were a regular occurrence. One such attack shattered much of the medieval stained glass in the church, but the piano survived and remains to this day, with a few scuffs and scratches… It certainly has that vintage look – how very Shoreditch.
The memorable piano
Another piano with character aplenty is residing at Fern St, currently in the Reverend’s possession. It used to be played by the Fern Street Singers, a group of elderly people, who used it in their sessions. In 2008, they made a piece for radio to capture the songs, memories and stories that were at risk of being forgotten, of which the piano was a part. Led by Roshi Nasehi, you can listen to the piano with the group here in their piece Voices of the East End:
The soon-to-be homeless piano
This is a story of a piano searching for a loving home. Vic Johnson House is a sheltered accommodation home for the elderly in Tower Hamlets, and they have an old baby grand piano desperately in need of some TLC. It has sat in the home for decades and has provided much entertainment for the residents over many years. The piano is on its last legs (structurally and figuratively speaking) – could this be the start of its new life?
The school piano
Although this isn’t a particularly old piano, the one in Christ Church School has had a huge impact on many children in the area. The pupils at the school come from a hugely diverse range of cultural and socio-economic background, and for many, the piano is their first introduction to live music.
The famous piano
Wilton’s Music Hall has many pianos housed within its building but one stands out from the rest. This Wendl and Lung style piano sits underneath the famous Wilton’s In Lights sign and has been played by Jools Holland and Roy Hudd. Upon playing it, Jools was reported saying to one of Wilton’s team; ‘Is this piano here all the time? Maybe I will come down and just play it some nights…’ It even featured in a documentary of London which you can watch below.