Public pianos add note of humanity to commuter rush

Providing opportunity to play instrument ‘breaks down the crowd’ at Heuston station

As pianos are placed in train stations around Dublin, we ask one commuter at Heuston station what does it mean to them when tickling the ivories during their journey to work. Video: Kayle Crosson

 

Catch a train from Heuston Station these days, and you might hear a Beatles ballad. Or maybe one of Sam Smith’s chart-toppers, or the quiet opening bars of Debussy’s Clair de Lune. You could even join in with The Fields of Athenry, singing the chorus alongside your fellow commuters.

But only if you take out your headphones.

Heuston Station has had a public piano since March 2018.

Scales learned in childhood and sonatas from another century are played by commuters and day-trippers.

“I lived in London for three years and there’s a couple of stations over there that had them,” said John Murphy, the Dublin-based piano tuner behind the public instrument initiative.

“I liked the impact that it had on the situation. It broke down the crowd and made people more willing to engage with each other,” Murphy added.

The piano’s artwork, designed by Sarah Edmondson, depicts different points of the station’s history, in a mixture of black-and-white and colour painting.

One piano player sits down, backpack resting beside the piano’s foot pedals. Two pieces later, she stops, and a woman approaches.

“Is that from Brief Encounter?” the spectator asks, and the player tells her that it’s from Love Actually, the 2003 romantic comedy.

Another listener comes over to the piano, as the player puts her backpack on and readies herself to leave, and asks, “I know the first one you played is Glasgow Love Theme, but what’s the second one?”

Portuguese Love Theme,” she answers with a smile, and they go their separate ways.

Although the piano might sit in silence at certain times of the day, brief encounters such as this are quite common when it is played.

Brendan Shields plays the Heuston piano weekly, and having lived with learning difficulties all his life, is proud of having mastered the instrument.

A Simon and Garfunkel fan, he will often play Bridge over Troubled Waters. Elsewhere on the concourse, a commuter mouths the words.

Shields might also play The Fields of Athenry, with spectators sometimes gathering around the piano to shake his hand when he finishes.

Other travellers are in too much of a hurry to stop, but are nevertheless pleased to hear live music as they pass.

“Today’s the first time I’ve heard someone play. It humanises the space a bit” said Pat Bracken, before catching his train.

Regular commuter Darren Coran adds: “I just love hearing the sound of people playing.”