Piano Man

Through Kickstarter, UB alum sets up pianos around Buffalo

On July 1, 2013

  • Mark Weber (left) and Jerry Lange stand next to the Kurtzmann piano that was originally built on Niagara Street in Buffalo in 1898. The piano now temporarily sits in Larkin Square for the public to enjoy until September. Brian Keschinger, The Spectrum
  • Jerry Lange color coordinates keys musically to help people have fun, even if they don't know how to play the piano. Brian Keschinger, The Spectrum

When 74-year-old Daniel Kulinksi saw Mark Weber's Kickstarter campaign on the local news, he knew exactly what to do with his parents' old 1898 Kurtzmann Piano: donate it to the project to be painted and shared with thousands.

The piano, which was built on Niagara Street in Buffalo over 100 years ago, is just one of seven being scattered around Buffalo; five have already been placed and are open to the public to play. Weber's Kickstarter-funded project exceeded its $4,000 goal on June 6.

Weber, '97, graduated from UB with degrees in communication and psychology. To him, the "Do Not Touch" signs that typically accompany pianos are unsettling. That's why he started his campaign to spread music all over the city. 

"How can a young person ever enjoy the piano sound if they're told, 'Don't touch that?'" Weber said. "So I thought: What if I put some pianos around town, outside, painted them colorfully and then said, 'Anyone and everyone can use them whether they're poor or rich, whether they're educated or not?'"
The idea, according to Weber, is to make music accessible to everyone.

"They don't have to be a concert piano player," he added.

Ninety-seven people backed the Kickstarter project. Steve Kiernan II of Algonquin Studios, a local media firm, provided a quarter of the overall donations. Weber reached out to Kiernan and asked why he gave $1,000 to the project. Kiernan responded with a letter that ended with: "To put it plainly - you give a damn and I like that!"

This wasn't the only support Weber received that left him floored. Robby Takac of the locally formed band Goo Goo Dolls promoted the project with a Facebook post that read "Pianos ... like all over the place ... help this dude out if you get a sec..." with a link to the Kickstarter page attached.

One of the pianos sits across from the mansion in Delaware Park; another faces the water at the boardwalk at Canalside. Larkin Square has one under a pavilion; another is tucked in the new pocket park between the Williamsville Library and Village Hall and the last is outside of Westside Stories Used Books on Grant Street.

For Weber, the project is about more than just pianos. It's about helping revive Buffalo and "putting some joy" back into the community.  

"Old pianos are often forgotten and they're put into a corner and gather dust, much like Buffalo has been," Weber explained.

When the pianos are given some "love and care" and are presented in a new way, the public views them differently, according to Weber.

"That's what I'm doing with these pianos and that's what Buffalo as a city is doing," he said. "They're taking stuff that's old, redoing it and making it fresh, and people are saying: 'You know what? It's better than I thought.'"

The recently revived Larkin Square is the temporary home for the 1898 Kurtzmann piano Kulinski donated. It sits just a few blocks away from where his parents grew up. On June 26, Larkin Square hosted the Live at Larkin music series. At the event, the 'Pianos in Public' project was praised and celebrated with performances by Grammy-winner George Caldwell and Boyd Lee Dunlop, who is in the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.

"This particular night of Live at Larkin, we shined the spotlight on two of the best piano players in Buffalo and what better occasion to welcome this new piano to Larkin Square than the night that they're in the spotlight?" said Seamus Gallivan, who is in charge of the musical performances at Larkin Square.

Weber said he feels like he's "the boss of a large corporation even though [I'm] not," he jokes. He had about 40 people help him with the project. 

Jerry Lange, an '05 UB studio in art graduate, was the artist for the Larkin Square piano. He patterned keys of the 1898 Kurtzmann with various colors of paint so even a piano novice can play pleasant-sounding tunes by pressing the same-color keys consecutively. 

"This way people can just have fun ... really, music and art is just about expressing yourself," Lange said. "Music, art, pianos, etc. brings people together and connects people and has the power to change the world."

Each individual piano has its own history and has been painted with its own "quasi-theme," Weber said.

Weber hopes many will create new memories on the pianos similar to his own memories of growing up with a baby grand piano.

The pianos will be free to play in the public of Buffalo until September. When asked about the fate of the pianos come September and if they will be out again next summer to enjoy, Weber laughed and said, "The book is not fully written on that yet."


Email: brian.keschinger@ubpsectrum.com

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