A 1936 Kesler piano is gaining a lot of attention in Okotoks’ downtown.
The town’s inaugural Picnic at the Piano is becoming a popular gathering place as residents and visitors lay out blankets and munch on picnic foods while enjoying a free piano concert in the Olde Towne Plaza one Wednesday a month.
“I was nervous about planning an event on a Wednesday at noon but it’s everything I could have imagined and more,” said Allan Boss, culture and heritage manager. “Typically people have other things to do during weekdays, but what I’ve found is that maybe if we planned it for the weekend we wouldn’t get as much traction because there is so much more going on”
Boss estimates 130 to 150 people have been enjoying the music at each performance, while another 100 walking by stop to listen to a song or two before moving on.
“It’s Wednesday afternoon and there are over 150 people gathering in the plaza eating their lunch and enjoying music and culture and enjoying our town,” he said. “What more could you ask for?”
Boss said more people are making the noon-hour concerts part of their plans for the day.
“Tudor Manor brought a bunch of seniors down in the bus,” he said. “They all sat and enjoyed the concert.
“Then you have the kids. It’s servicing segments of the population that might have a little bit of time during the week on their hands.”
The piano, made by Mason & Risch in Ontario, was donated to the Town last summer by Okotoks resident Art Gieck and is the feature attraction once a month from last May to September.
“We are trying to design a concert schedule that is not the same thing over and over again,” said Boss. “It’s a diversity of acts. The quality of performers thus far has been outstanding.”
Professional pianists from Calgary have been selected to entertain the public.
The next performance is by Calgary pianist and composer Michelle Gregoire, who will perform a variety of jazz, pop and showtunes, on July 20.
“I performed for the first time in Calgary last year and I thought it was a really cool idea,” she said of outdoor piano performing. “I’ve done a couple since then and I get a kick out of it.”
Gregoire is a freelance musician who’s worked in pit orchestras for various theatre companies including Theatre Calgary and Stage West and teaches jazz piano at the Ambrose University in Calgary.
Having the opportunity to perform in the street is an adventure for Gregoire.
“You are creating an atmosphere,” she said. “It’s a really powerful thing. Most musicians are aware of that ability to affect someone’s mood.”
Gregoire said her listeners are usually quite baffled.
“People are always surprised to hear a good solid performer,” she said. “They are expecting people to be noodling around. Professional musicians are expected to play a grand (piano) at a hall or in orchestras. To hear a good musician play on a street is a shock.”
While hundreds of people have been embracing the noon-hour concerts, Boss said the Town is facing some challenges with vandalism. In one case, culprits poured sand into the piano keys.
“You expect these things,” he said. “It’s a public piece of art and in a space that’s not entirely active all night.”
In response, the Town will lock up the piano at night and, said Boss, the show must go on.
For details about upcoming concerts go to okotoksculture.ca