The key to connection

The Community Keys Project launch happened at the Healesville location outside The Memo on Saturday 3 February. Pictures: SUPPLED.

By Mikayla van Loon

When walking down parts of some of the Yarra Ranges main streets, the sound of a piano may ring out in a musical tune.

Launched on Saturday 3 February in Healesville, the Community Keys Project has placed six pianos in the heart of townships across the shire, inviting passersby to test out their skills.

Placed in Healesville, Yarra Glen, Mooroolbark, Monbulk, Lilydale and Belgrave, the pianos were salvaged by ABC Piano Removals and donated to project organiser Beth Williams.

Having grown up around music and instruments, as well as now being a music therapist, Ms Williams wanted to bring some of the same joy she had as a child to the streets of Yarra Ranges.

“I just wanted to make really lovely old acoustic instruments available in public spaces, to see if it generates people’s interest in playing and getting together to build community around those instruments because it’s something they’ve been used for in the past,” she said.

“Sharing those little moments and even playing or singing together, it’s just a lovely way of making connections with people that you wouldn’t normally have.”

The pianos will be installed from February to May for people to play as they please, as well as being included in special events and festivals, providing an opportunity for musicians to showcase their talent.

“In some of the sites, we’re hoping to create Saturday market busking rosters, so people can opt in to play the piano at different time slots,” Ms Williams said.

“Say in Monbulk, there’s a market between 10am and 1pm on a Saturday morning, we’re hoping to build a really secure relationship with performing people in that town.”

Increasing performance opportunities, particularly for young people, was a key element of the project design.

“As broader aspirations for the project, we’re really hoping to create new performance opportunities and new performance connections between people.

“[But] we’re hoping to encourage people who’ve never touched instruments before, to have that opportunity of having a go and realising it’s not so inaccessible and I guess, accessibility for all kinds of people from different walks of life and with different abilities.”

Through the creation of the project it became apparent to Ms Williams that not many state schools offer piano lessons or even have a piano teacher, something she said was an “absolute tragedy”.

Ms Williams said music therapy was also something she wanted to embed in the project, knowing the benefits for mental health.

“From a music therapy perspective, research shows that having agency and playing something, or being interactive with things gives people positive self identity and agency and control over their environment, even if they don’t have control in all aspects of their life,” she said.

“So it’s really quite good for your health, to have those opportunities and also, connecting with other people is also really good for mental health. It’s really a good positive mental health project.”

Research from a survey will help Ms Williams better understand how this project may have benefited people or the interaction they had with the piano.

Although knowing the potential negatives that comes with placing an object in a public place, Ms Williams said she hopes the communities will respect and treat the pianos with care.

Volunteers will also frequent the locations to undertake risk assessments, any damage and provide a paper survey to people who may be unable to use the digital version.

“We’ve tried to choose streetscapes with as high as possible foot traffic. But also, we’ve tried to choose sites that aren’t necessarily art based sites to engage and create new arts engagement opportunities.

“So we haven’t put them at the museums and the gallery so much as in really public places that will engage the broadest range of community members.”

While funding from Yarra Ranges Council has only enabled the project to be established in the current town, Ms Williams said should she be able to gain funding from other streams, she’s interested in broadening the project to other townships in the Yarra Ranges.

“Also, each location that’s had a piano installed is eligible to apply to have the piano more long term, if we can find a sustainable model of maintenance for pianos.”

But for now, play, listen and connect and use the hashtag community_keys to post to social media to grow a network of musicians.