Holiday Spotlight: “Come Play With Me!” Piano

There’s nothing that brings out the child in us during the holiday season quite like music. Whether it’s listening to Frank and Bing sing, or delighting in the jazzy sounds of the Vince Guaraldi Trio as Charlie Brown learns what Christmas is all about, timeless music such as this captures the true essence of the season.

This Thursday (December 17) at 3pm, merrymakers and holiday travellers will join local music students, teachers and professional musicians at the “Come Play With Me” public piano at the St. John’s International Airport to ring in the season with a Community Christmas Concert. The piano, painted by artist Justin Fong and sponsored by JAG (Steele Hotels), was installed by Business & Arts NL last December and has given locals and visitors the chance to share their musical talents with bystanders as they pass through the airport.

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Air Canada ramp agent Jason Foote playing the public piano at St. John’s International Airport.

Recently, the airport authority hosted the Singing Legionnaires, who took centre stage to help spread their special blend of Christmas cheer (click here to watch a video of their performance). Some of the airport’s own employees have even wowed passersby with their piano-playing prowess. An Air Canada ramp agent by night, Jason Foote has been tickling the ivories since he was around five years old. Although he can’t read music and is self-taught, one would never suspect watching his fingers fly with ease across the keys.

“I work overnight. You have a flight coming in and then you may have a half hour, 40 minutes or whatever before the next flight comes in. If we have enough time, a bunch of us usually go to Tim Hortons and I’ll usually play it then, just in between. I love it that it’s there. It’s awesome,” he says.

“It all started last winter – we had that major storm and we had flights cancelled for four or five days…So I was playing there and the airport was packed. It made time pass for myself, but I had a lot of people come up to me and say it made their stay at the airport that much better.”

Earlier this fall, a co-worker filmed Foote playing and, unbeknownst to him, uploaded the video to Facebook. Within a matter of days, the video had received thousands of views and it wasn’t long before local media came calling (click here to see NTV’s piece on Foote).

The piano man is taking his newfound fame in stride. A father of five-year-old twins, Foote says playing the piano helps him to unwind at home, and he’s happy to have the chance to share his love of music with travellers far and wide.

“The airport, believe it or not, there is a lot of people there overnight. A lot of people show up for their first flight out in the morning…2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, I’ll go down and there appears to be nobody around. And then I’ll sit down, I’ll start jamming away on the piano – the Beatles, Paul McCartney or some blues – and then all of a sudden there’s 20 people around,” he laughs.

“I do enjoy it, I have to say.”

Hitting A High Note

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(L-R): Brad Tuck, Stephen Green and Andrew Rodgers of Fairgale perform a Trooper tune at the St. John’s Airport.

The airport piano has also helped make some noise for one local band – in a very big way. This past summer, four-piece rock outfit Fairgale (who started performing together last December) were part of the George Street Association’s inaugural “Rock the Block” contest. The challenge saw local bands vying for a spot opening for Canadian classic rockers Trooper at the George Street Festival.

“We had heard about a public piano at the airport and thought it would be a great opportunity to record our own interpretation of a classic Trooper song in a very unique setting,” says drummer Brad Tuck.

The band’s video of their bare-bones performance of “We’re Here For A Good Time” not only became a viral sensation, it also grabbed the attention of Trooper themselves (click here to watch Fairgale’s performance).

“Trooper actually sent us a private message saying they loved our rendition of their tune. They suggested that even if we didn’t win the voting contest to open for them, they wanted us to come on stage with them during their set and perform a collaboration of the song with them. That certainly meant a lot to us and in addition, the whole story generated a lot of buzz for us,” Tuck says.

In the end, thanks to the tremendous voting support from family, friends and fans, Tuck says, Fairgale won the competition. “Receiving Trooper’s endorsement and having them share the video to their social media followers certainly garnered us some attention and some additional votes along the way,” he adds.

For musicians like Tuck, the idea of public pianos is music to their ears.

“The concept that anyone is able to sit down for five minutes and play the piano for passersby is a very cool idea,” he says. “St. John’s has always been renowned for its musical prowess, so having a public piano in our international airport only seems fitting for travellers to share their passion for music with each other.”

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“Come Play With Me!” public piano at Deer Lake Regional Airport.

The public piano at Deer Lake Regional Airport, installed by Business & Arts in August, has also been getting its fair share of attention. Brightly decorated with an underwater theme by Corner Brook artist Jackie Alcock and sponsored by Humber Motors, the piano has caught the eye of many who’ve passed through the airport over the summer (including some familiar faces like Alan Doyle). And during a visit to Gros Morne in September, some members of the Canadian Chamber Choir touched down to play a few tunes (click here to watch).

“It was used much during the summer months when it was introduced…we hope that it’s going to get a lot of use over the holidays,” says Jamie Schwartz, President and CEO of Deer Lake Regional Airport.

With plans to install a public piano at Gander International Airport, as well as several more around St. John’s, in the new year, it looks like the trend of community music making in the province will continue for a long time to come.