Streamwood High's cafeteria piano transforms lunch hours
What happens when you place a piano in the middle of a bustling student cafeteria?
It spurs spontaneous eruptions of hidden musical talent, students toe-tapping and singing along to renditions of popular songs, impromptu jam sessions and occasional flash mobs bringing down the house.
That's been the result of "a social experiment" at Streamwood High School, borrowing an idea from the "Play Me, I'm Yours" movement that has installed 1,500 pianos on the streets and plazas of more than 50 cities worldwide.
Junior Kelly Byrne came up with the idea after experiencing one of the "Play Me, I'm Yours" street pianos while visiting the University of Iowa.
"The piano allows students to express themselves," Byrne said. "Students have the freedom to play the piano whenever they please."
She got Principal Ariel Correa to sign off on it, along with the support of music teacher David Hain.
"We just thought it was a good idea and decided to fake it," Hain said. "It's kind of a risky thing to do, putting a piano in the cafeteria. It's supposed to be a piece of communal property that everyone uses.
"For me, the biggest thing has been that the kids use it, they protect it, and treat it like theirs. As a social experiment, it's pretty much successful."
Each day during lunch periods, random students may be tempted to tickle the ivories, prompting their peers to gather around, sing along or just watch and enjoy the break from the norm.
"It allows students to find their hidden talents," said 17-year-old Arty Pyszniak, who is studying advanced music theory. "It allows the community to come together and just have fun with music. It's nice to see what people can play."
A few times the entire cafeteria has come together and started singing along to renditions of pop songs by Adele, Beyoncé, and Rihanna, he said.
Hain said students don't need a ton of musical knowledge or prowess to play the piano, as long as they know the basics of chords and how melody works.
"There's way more students who can play the piano than I ever thought we'd have," he said.
Bringing the piano to the school itself was a community effort. Donated by a Streamwood resident, the instrument was in poor shape and needed significant repair work before it was playable, Hain said.
"We took it apart in homeroom, learned all about it, and put it back together," he said.
Art students created colorful, eye-catching designs for the piano's artwork, and music students selected the best design by senior Susan Williams representing the school's diverse, multicultural population.
Williams and her classmates painted the piano with whimsical musical notes, flowers and geometric shapes in yellow, blue and green.
"The artwork on the piano just makes it a part of our culture now," Byrne said. "It was created by the students, for the students, and it looks spectacular."
The fine arts staff and students also have introduced a painted guitar that rests on the back of the piano. A set of conga drums will be added to the mix soon.
"We have students that have never touched either instrument and now are learning, either on their own or with their new friends, how to play the instruments," Correa said. "We have witnessed unknown talents. This experience has brought diverse groups together through charismatic and interactive experience of shared musicianship."