For 28 days starting on Jan. 16, UC Irvine student ears have picked up on spontaneous tunes and beats from the keys of a mysterious piano played by talented musicians. In front of Irvine Barclay Theater, students may have heard the fingers of ICS major Norman Tran jamming to jazz music, ESL exchange student from Japan Shintaro Hirai performing classical music or biomedical engineer Joseph Chris Gomez moving to the rhythm of R&B and soul. They all play for the joy of music.
“OC Can You Play,” was a piano project organized by Orange County’s Pacific Symphony. Founded in 1978, Pacific Symphony in Orange County is the largest orchestra formed in the United States in the last 40 years. The piano stationed here at Irvine Barclay Theater on the campus of UCI was one among the 20 authentic, unique and colorfully painted pianos. These pianos were placed in iconic public locations such as South Coast Plaza, Downtown Disney in Anaheim, The Lab in Costa Mesa, Great Park in Irvine, the Irvine Spectrum Center, Main Beach in Laguna Beach, on a hill top at Whiting Ranch and all throughout Orange County. The instruments were generously donated by Yamaha and Kawai. Each piano was distinctively painted by a local artist.
The piano at the Barclay Theater was painted by a talented UCI studio art major, Sharon Whelchel. During the last week of “OC Can You Play,” Pacific Symphony had auctioned off all 20 pianos on an online charity auction known as “Bidding For Good.” All the money made from the auction will benefit Artistic and Educational initiatives of Pacific Symphony. Raising money was not the only purpose these pianos served. Underneath the surface, “OC Can You Play” had raised awareness to a hidden passion, brought unity and took a stand against the norm.
The piano placed outside of the Barclay Theater allows pianists to be in a new situation. The guitarist who is able to play at a public place at any given time can now be matched by the pianist.
Pianists are often bound to the same familiar settings partnered with a set time such as piano recitals or in the privacy of their very own home. However, the Barclay piano provided UCI with a change. It challenges the normal paradigm of public performance. It gave pianists a chance to perform their talents and share their passion with the public. Outside of recital halls, restaurants and department stores, pianists are normally not random public performers. “OC Can You Play” has given these musicians an opportunity.
The charisma of Barclay’s piano has never failed to exceed expectations. The piano brought life and unity to the campus of UCI. It brought out the joy of music. Each day was a new story: Monday, the keys of the piano were joined with the tunes of a harmonica. Tuesday, a pianist from Minnesota with a dream to become a famous musician in LA performed the blues. Wednesday, the strings of a violinist joined the melody of the piano keys. Thursday, Tim Ketenjian, a member of UCI’s male a cappella group, Circle of Fifths, serenaded the intrigued crowd with two instruments — the piano and his vocals.
“I think this idea is a really cool opportunity, especially for people who have the passion for piano,” Ketenjian said after his stunning two-hour performance on the piano in the cold 60-degree weather, “Most instruments are portable but pianos you can’t just take around. So it’s really nice to have a piano to just play at any time of the day. The coolest thing about this piano is that it’s for everybody. It’s not restricted for just music majors. Anybody can come out to just play.”