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Local News

Pianos on State Street Provide Musicians with Impromptu Venue

The downtown Santa Barbara collaboration spotlights the artistic talents of amateurs and professionals

[Scroll to the bottom to see video of Pianos on State.]

The moment was brief — mere seconds of silence — as the traffic light turned red and passing pedestrians and vehicles ground to a halt on heavily traveled State Street.

From somewhere beneath the short-lived still on a recent afternoon rose calming piano notes to the tune of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”

It’s within that special moment that Santa Barbara acupuncturist Dan Diamond found his solace, a break from the bustle with an impromptu Pianos on State performance that the longtime musician seamlessly segued into “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles.

And all Diamond had to do was sit down and play.

His instrument in front of Old Navy at Anapamu and State streets was one of 10 being put to use this week by amateur and professional players of all ages as part of Pianos on State, a collaborative musical experiment that leads up to the 2013 New Noise Festival & Conference that begins Thursday.

The pianos have been placed on State Street for playing between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. the past three years, which is also how long Diamond has been frequenting them.

“It’s right on my route,” said Diamond, who paused at a piano this week on his bike ride home for lunch. “I ended up staying at this one because it’s in tune.

“I don’t even realize how noisy downtown is. Music gets to carry instead of traffic.”

Alexius Rodriguez, a senior biochemistry major at UCSB, serenades a friend and State Street corner with the classical stylings of "Mariage d'amour." (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk)

Local artists have creatively painted the pianos that went outside late last week for the joint effort, which draws from the volunteers of several community organizations.

Passersby are encouraged to have a seat and play individually or as part of a group near the historic Arlington Theatre, the Funk Zone’s Avelina Wine Co. and even at the Santa Barbara Airport.

“We’re all about making arts accessible to the public,” said Ginny Brush, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, a lead organizer. “It’s definitely one of those ‘It takes a village’ kind of projects.”

The allure of the live stage compelled many of the spontaneous musicians, including Alexius Rodriguez, a senior biochemistry major at UC Santa Barbara.

After eating brunch at a nearby restaurant, Rodriguez serenaded a friend and a street corner this week with two years worth of piano-playing skills and a rendition of “Mariage d’amour.”

“People on different streets are playing music from different eras,” he said.

Across the street from Rodriguez still sat Diamond, who head-bobbed to tunes and attracted smiles from pedestrians, as well a young smartphone-wielding videographer.

His big finish may have lacked applause, but Diamond’s expression showed no indication of it.

“It makes my bike commute more interesting,” he said, strapping on a bike helmet and pedaling toward home.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Pianos on State from Noozhawk on Vimeo.

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