FEATURE

The Streets Are Alive (With The Sound Of Music)

Text by Wong Sher Maine

People from all walks of life have been coming together, learning new things, having fun and making friends, thanks to public spaces that they can use.
 
 
mainfc54a97bf9f668da9107ff0000351172Players of all ages and backgrounds attend the Pianovers Meetup.
 

On a Sunday evening, a group of about 30 made their way to a cavernous open-air atrium in front of the URA Centre, along Maxwell Road. The rain did not seem to bother them as they focused on the two upright pianos beside an enormous bronze sculpture.

Fourteen of them had signed up to play in an hour-long mini-recital, as part of a regular series of events called Pianovers Meetup. Most were amateurs who would not have had the opportunity to perform otherwise.

Video courtesy of thepiano.sg

The Pianovers Meetup, organised by piano enthusiasts, shows no signs of losing steam after 37 sessions in nearly a year. Many who turned up that day were regulars. The rest were a hodgepodge of one-off visitors: parents who wanted their children to get a taste of piano performance; tourists explor­ing the Tanjong Pagar enclave; even a bona fide concert pianist who dropped by, incognito, to “get inspired by pianists who are not obligated to play”.

With the only distraction being the occasional whoosh from cars passing on the rain-slicked road, the piano play­ers’ tinkling notes resounded in the atrium space – such that even passers-by 50 metres away could hear the strains of music, from Chopin to sweeping Yiruma.

Mr Teo Gee Yong is an IT consultant who has per­formed on six occasions. He mused: “It can get hot and humid here, but this place has become like our little auditorium.”

main2 A pair of regular participants perform at the 36th Pianovers Meetup.

Starting from the ground

The Pianovers Meetup is just one of many events created by people to pursue their interests that have mushroomed in public spaces all over Singapore.

It taps another community-led initiative, Play It For­ward, which has the support of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) under its Our Favourite Place pro­gramme. Founded by three former members of the NUS Piano Ensemble, Play It Forward gives used pianos a second lease of life by restoring and placing them in public spaces for a period, before the pianos go to beneficiaries such as welfare homes. (Find out more: playitforwardsg.org)

Our Favourite Place allows people to propose ideas to “activate” public spaces, while another URA initiative, Streets for People, focuses on helping citizens turn streets and roads into car-free hives of life.

The URA provided support to start Play It Forward and “adopted” two pianos at the URA Centre. That’s where pi­ano teacher Mr Sng Yong Meng took the opportunity to organise the Pianovers Meetups.

Over in Serangoon, a one-off Streets for People event was organised by a cyclist who wanted to inspire his neigh­bours to bike.

Mr Lim Zhen Xiong, a public officer, discovered the joys of a cycling commute during an internship in Amster­dam, one of the most cycling-friendly cities in the world. Upon his return to Singapore in 2013, he not only start­ed cycling 14km to and from work three times a week, he wanted to turn his Upper Serangoon neighbourhood into a mini-Amsterdam.
 

Video courtesy of thepiano.sg

 

“It was always a nagging thought at the back of my mind to organise something. But the turning point for ac­tion only came about when I read a book, Creative Confi­dence, by Tom Kelley. It was about how to take action to implement changes we believe in,” he said. (Read more: bit.ly/creativeC)

Mr Lim took his proposal to the URA. Nine months later, in March 2017, the idea materialised as Sustainability Sunday, a street carnival at a car park in Serangoon Gardens.

Under the Streets for People programme, the URA con­nected Mr Lim with relevant agencies, such as the Traffic Police and Singapore Civil Defence Force, to get permits for running the carnival.

main3 At Sustainability Sunday, visitors took photos with chalk drawings (bottom left), played games (bottom right) and met sustainability enthusiasts such as cycling interest groups (top left). The event was organised by Mr Lim Zhen Xiong (top right).

Public-people partnership

The URA also works with organisers to shape the events. In the case of Sustainability Sunday, they suggested to Mr Lim that he broaden the scope of the event so that more people could participate.

“Initially I wanted to organise a cycling-only event,” said Mr Lim. “But by turning it into a carnival on sustain­ability, with booths on upcycling, safe-cycling practices and urban farming, it became more vibrant.”

The opening of spaces to the community has had a far-reaching impact. Participants of the Pianovers Meetup, for instance, are of all ages and from all walks of life. While they may appear to have little in common, many regulars have become firm friends through a shared love for piano music.

Mr Teo, who only started learning the piano at the age of 40, said: “When you play alone, sometimes you don’t feel like practising. But with such meetups, you are inspired to practise and perform. I have also learnt new repertoire from the people I met here.”

Such testimonials keep Mr Sng, the main organiser of the Pianovers Meetup, going. “For most people, piano playing is restricted to lessons and practice at home. This is a stage which changes the way the piano is perceived, as something to bring joy to others.”

As for Sustainability Sunday, Mr Lim was asked by res­idents to organise it again.

He said: “People really enjoyed roaming around. It was a very organic, stress-free and happy way to spend the day, and they realised that a car park space doesn’t just have to be for cars. It can be turned into something which makes the community more liveable and pleasant.”

Watch the Pianovers Meetup performances at bit.ly/thepianosg or www.thepiano.sg

The URA’s initiatives

Our Favourite Place, which encourages citizens to propose ideas to enliven public spaces, provides support for community-led projects such as Play It Forward. Other projects include art installations in Little India, and portable ping pong tables (Project KamPONG).

www.ourfaveplace.sg

Streets for People helps the community turn streets and roads into car-free hives of life, such as with the Sustainability Sunday carnival, as well as at Circular Road, Club Street and Liang Seah Street in Bugis (bit.ly/liangseah).

bit.ly/streets4p

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