VIDEO: The story behind Port Authority’s secret public piano

September 20, 2017

Adrian Untermyer plaing the piano, via Sing for Hope

Smack in the middle of the busiest bus terminal in the world is a funky, rainbow piano. Located on a platform that was once the terminal’s operations control center but is now the Port Authority Bus Terminal Performing Arts Stage, the piano arrived last year via a collaboration with the nonprofit Sing for Hope. But the idea for this public performance opportunity is thanks to pianist and preservationist Adrian Untermyer, who originally saw pianos in train stations in Paris and thought it would be a great way to bring “light and joy and music to a space that we all know but may not particularly love.” In the video ahead, Adrian tells us how his proposal became a reality and why Port Authority deserved a piano.

Cinematography and editing: Miesha Agrippa

In the 1990s, Port Authority had an uptick in homeless persons. To “solve” the issue, the terminal piped-in classical music, hoping that the traditional sounds of Beethoven would drive them out (it didn’t). After seeing the pianos in Paris and spending years traveling through Port Authority’s depressing spaces, Adrian thought his piano idea would not only enliven the grim building but juxtapose this prior notion that beautiful music is not to be enjoyed by everyone. And when he saw that the stage-like space had been vacated (the operations control center was moved to a more secluded area for security reasons), he reached out to Sing for Hope. Each summer the nonprofit arts group places hundreds of artist-painted pianos around the five boroughs, after which they are donated to local public schools. They donated this piano and freelance artist Patrick Freeman was chosen to paint it.

Today, volunteers play the music during the evening commute on Wednesdays and Fridays and Port Authority arranges various programming around the piano. Because of security reasons, the space cannot be left publicly accessible if not attended, but if you’re interested in playing, you can sign up to be a volunteer.


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