I thought she was joking at first.
“Play the piano in the railway station?”
“Yes,” my tutor said. “I dare you.”
She had a mischievous twinkle in her eye – one that warned me not to refuse.
Except as I strode across Sheaf Square, music books under one arm, what seemed a bad idea when my tutor first proposed it, increasingly felt like a really, really, REALLY bad one.
The stride quickly become a nervous shuffle.
“Maybe the pianos don’t exist,” I gabbled to my boyfriend Jonny.
“Maybe they’re not there anymore. Perhaps, they’re broken and have been taken away.”
Jonny squeezed my hand, and continued dragging me through the glass doors.
Unfortunately, my dreams didn’t come true. Two Americano-coloured, upright pianos stood side-by- side between the public toilets and the front entrance to the Marks & Spencer mini mart.
‘Why am I doing this?’ Nausea bubbled in my throat. I swallowed. My head was pounding. I really did not want to do
“You’re a journalist. It’s what you do.” Jonny’s words echoed around, wrapping me in a realisation that yes, this had to be done.
My fingertips traced the dents and scars that lined the top of the first piano. It hurt to feel the abuse this piano had clearly suffered. It was no secret that many people pummelled the keys and bashed the pedals. You can hear the dissonance ringing throughout the platforms when you step off the train. Painful.
I wriggled around, trying to get comfortable on the slightly grubby, slightly stained, red chair which had clearly seen better days. Wincing, I attempted a warm-up scale, only to discover there were very few keys which either could play at all or could play at their required pitch. It was a honky-tonk piano – the kind which you might see in a country bar where some drunkard plays out-of-une ballads till the cows come home.
Opening the battered music book, full of Einaudi gems (look him up, he’s the best Italian composer to ever grace the earth), I was about to get settled, ready to become immersed in a harmonic tranquility when...
“Oh. Where’s the music stand?”
Maybe it was hidden inside the piano. Maybe it just didn’t come with one. Maybe I didn’t have to play after all. It wasn’t until Jonny pointed to the damaged hinges that realisation dawned on me again. Of course, it was broken.
“The music will fall off, there’s no way I can play now.”
“Don’t worry,” grinned Jonny, “I’ll hold it for you and turn the pages. Barely anyone will notice. You’ll be invisible.”
Sighing, I shifted around and tried to settle down again.
Deep breath. In. Out. My hands sunk into the bed of keys.
Then it was over. The relief was incredible. I suppose there was a sense of achievement too, proof that it could be done.
Not much sticks in mind of those few minutes, except the odd grimace at the notes which didn’t sound and the sticky keys that barely budged when I tried to play them.
I do remember the little girl, maybe seven years old, who stood watching for a time, her suitcase behind her and red coat buttoned up tight. Her eyes were hidden by dark sunglasses – she didn’t really need them in February but she clearly wanted to tell the world: ‘I’m on holiday.’
There was also an elderly lady sat around the corner from the mini mart, two metres or so away from the pianos. She seemed to be absorbed by her magazine – but after the music had stopped, she put her hand out and said: “That was beautiful.”
Her words were music to my ears and put a spring in my step for the rest of the day.
In return, I hope my music was able to jazz up the lady’s journey, as she stepped out of the train station and into a grey-skied, misery-clad, drizzle-filled, Monday morning.
In a way, you’re mostly invisible as you sit there at the piano in the train station. People don’t tend to notice you. They don’t judge you or keep count of your mistakes either. The majority walk past without giving you a second glance. Invisible.
And you know what, I’m going to do it all over again.