Start with a nice piano, add a beautiful space and mix in people playing whenever they wish – and you’ve got a recipe for an ongoing public cultural experience! But the City of Ottawa didn’t plan for this.
The piano arrived at city hall in December 2014, a gift to the city from wine columnist Natalie MacLean, who had first approached the National Arts Centre to see if it was interested in the donation. By coincidence, the city was making inquires at the National Arts Centre about a piano it could make available to people who don’t mind playing for a passing audience.
The piano, a Yamaha, was valued at $65,000 and tuned five times a year at a cost of $141.25 for each tuning. It’s such a fine instrument that it can make a pair of novices stuttering through Heart and Soul sound good. The piano was installed in the main hallway on the main floor, a shortcut often taken by pedestrians taking a shortcut between Laurier Avenue and Lisgar Street.
The original plan was to keep it at city hall for the holiday season, then relocate it to the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park.
“But then the piano arrived. And it became a very popular thing,” said Dan Chenier, the city’s senior manager of parks, recreation and culture.
A year later, the piano is in the same spot and the city is looking for a second piano for the Horticulture Building. The city hall piano has become a fixture, open from early in the morning to 11 p.m. unless there’s an event going on in the reception space nearby. Lisgar Collegiate students stop at lunch or on their way home to play a few tunes. Prom-going teens have their photos taken on the glossy bench. Musicians post performances under the piano’s hashtag #ottpiano.