Carnegie Mellon University
August 19, 2019

Piano Day Pittsburgh Takes Music to the Streets

Event is the inspiration of Carnegie Mellon's Peter Stumpf

By Heidi Opdyke

Pam Wigley
  • College of Fine Arts
  • 412-268-1047

A flatbed trailer carrying a grand piano will become a stage on wheels, filling downtown Pittsburgh plazas with music from Carnegie Mellon University students, alumni and staff, and several jazz legends.

Piano Day Pittsburgh, Aug. 24-25, is the inspiration of Peter Stumpf, CMU's piano technician. In 2016, he strapped a Steinway & Sons grand piano to a flatbed truck with the help of some volunteers and drove it around town.

"Taking a piano outside is a crazy idea," Stumpf said. "There are so many risks from weather, flying debris or something unexpected. Anything can happen."

But, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Stumpf's goal is to provide more public access to the piano. He said learning to play the piano has many benefits, including improving memory and expanding parts of the brain that improve spatial reasoning and math skills. It also builds good habits like focus, perseverance, diligence and creativity. The skills learned at the keyboard are transferrable to many aspects of life, Stumpf said.

"For me this isn't about the world saving the piano, it's about the piano saving the world," Stumpf said.

Stumpf said Pittsburgh has always been a nurturing place for the arts. It has been home to some of the greatest piano players, conductors, opera singers and composers of the 20th Century. Two years ago Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto proclaimed Aug. 8, or 8/8, was Piano Day in Pittsburgh because pianos have 88 keys.

"The playwright August Wilson even made Pittsburgh the locale for his Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Piano Lesson,'" he said.

A variety of piano players will perform on the flatbed trailer at several locations on the tour. One special stop from 1 - 3 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 24, will be the Crawford Grill, 2141 Wylie Ave., where internationally known jazz greats such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Lena Horne and Duke Ellington performed in the 1950s and '60s.

"The Crawford Grill was the epicenter of jazz between New York City and Chicago," Stumpf said.

The club has been closed since 2003, but a consortium that includes Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris purchased the building and aims to reopen it as a jazz venue.

At the Crawford Grill, Harris will serve as master of ceremonies and performers will include jazz legends Roger Humphries, Dr. James Johnson, Mark Strickland, Jessica Lee and Nelson Harrison, among others.

Additional stops on Aug. 24 may include day care centers and PNC Park, where the Pittsburgh Pirates will host the Cincinnati Reds at 7:05 p.m. Follow Piano Day Pittsburgh's Facebook to see stops in real-time.

On Sunday, Aug. 25, four concert grade pianos will be stationed in downtown spaces: Heinz Hall Garden; 300 Liberty Ave. (RiverVue Patio), where ensembles will play; Market Square, which will be open to anyone; and PPG Plaza, where all of the pianists will be women. Performances are free and will take place between noon-8 p.m.

Stumpf's core volunteers include CMU students, such as Executive Producer Gino Mollica and Director of Artist Relations and Marketing Madi Ogburn. Mollica and Ogburn are rising seniors in CMU's School of Music and will begin the accelerated Master of Arts Management program this fall.

"I love how the event brings music and pure joy to people," Ogburn said. "You get to connect with people in so many ways by offering this."

"We have performers of all ages," Mollica said. "It's some of Pittsburgh's best talent and also amateurs for whom it might be their first public performance. When else could a 6-year-old have an opportunity to sit at a 9-foot piano and play a piece they've been working on?"