Update: In an earlier version of this story, Carolyn Krueger’s name was misspelled. OurQuadCities regrets the error.

The first year of the special OneSound Piano Project was music to many people’s ears and eyes, and it plans to grow next year.

The painted piano at QC International Airport, Moline (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Led by Davenport-based Common Chord (formerly River Music Experience), last May, 10 upright pianos were painted by Quad Cities artists and placed at prominent places throughout the community for the public to play.

Using data and GPS phone tracking, they estimated that from June through October — excluding the airport piano — the colorful instruments were visited, seen, or passed by more than 650,000 times, including repeat visitors.

“Music is one of the best ways to build community, and we’re pleased that the OneSound project did its job in building pride in the QC region and our public spaces,” Common Chord executive director Tyson Danner said recently.

Common Chord executive director Tyson Danner

“We heard from site partners that it drew people in, and they interacted with the pianos. This meant that they stayed in the spaces longer, had a more enjoyable time there, and placed a higher value on the public spaces,” he said.

The OneSound locations were:

  • Quad Cities International Airport, Moline
  • Quad City Botanical Center, Rock Island
  • Niabi Zoo, Coal Valley
  • Freight House Farmers Market, Davenport
  • Runner’s Park, East Moline
  • Waterfront Convention Center, Bettendorf
  • Vander Veer Park, Davenport
  • Mercado on Fifth, Moline
  • Antique Archaeology, LeClaire
  • Quad City Arts, Rock Island

Several of the pianos will stay at their sites, indoors, until next May. Those locations are still featured on the map on the Common Chord website. A few of them have returned to Common Chord for storage.

“We’re thankful for our partnership with Visit Quad Cities, who we worked with to gather geo-tracking data through a software system they have access to,” Danner said. “In addition, several of our site partners keep exact attendance counts. We were able to combine these data to create an estimate of overall public exposure and engagement with the project.”

OneSound is an initiative to put the soundtrack of today into the hands of our community by providing them with not only the idea of but the means to engage in creativity, and break down social barriers through music. This project aimed to build community and long-term relationships with local businesses, local government, and organizations that go beyond the program.

“One Sound will add another artistic element to our already thriving creative community in the Quad Cities,” said John Langworthy, One Sound program director. “It is going to bring people together in public spaces who may have never thought to interact with one another.”

In January of 2022, Langworthy put out a call for 10 artists to design and paint 10 pianos to be scattered across the QC. The artists selected for the project were Atlanta Dawn, Karen Blomme, Abigail Kongkousonh, Lisa Mahar, Carolyn Krueger, Regan Hatfield, Ella Crockett, Amber Abel, Nicholas Frey and Heidi Sallows.

Artist Atlanta Dawn’s daughter Violet tried out her piano (which was at Niabi Zoo in the warm months) last May at Common Chord, Davenport.

Positive reactions

Kevin Maynard, executive director of Quad City Arts, said recently they were a site sponsor and were “thrilled to support this great project.”

“Quad City Arts was excited to sponsor the One Sound Piano Project for its inaugural year, because it not only created new hands-on public art pieces, it also paid artists to create them,” he said by e-mail. “Additionally, we loved that this project provided access to pianos and created music in our public spaces.

“We loved having a piano located at Quad City Arts. Initially, it was located right next to our window on 2nd Avenue, but as the popularity of the piano grew, we relocated it to Arts Alley,” Maynard said. “The placement next to the window created a megaphone effect in our offices, which made it tricky for meetings and phone calls.

“While the piano was at our location, we witnessed numerous people playing it, including one person who was there daily, and another that came every week just to practice scales. It was impressive to see,” he said.

Out of the 10 pianos in this season’s lineup, seven were exclusively outdoors and two were left out completely in the open, according to the 2022 project report. All the outdoor pianos had their own custom heavy-duty piano cover (provided by friends at West Music) and out of those seven pianos, the two left out in the open took some water damage from the summer rain and humidity, causing swelling in the piano keys which makes the piano unusable.

Common Chord was able to draw out the moisture in those pianos using a dehumidifier in a small/dry room, bringing the pianos back to a not perfect, but playable level of functionality. So, yes pianos can survive the summer elements, but we learned that in the future, it is key that the pianos live underneath an awning/structure and pianos get covered with the provided covers.

The painted piano at Runner’s Park in East Moline.

“At Niabi Zoo, it has been a delight watching and listening to people combine music and nature. The beautiful artwork on the piano draws the attention of people, but the keys make them want to play and stay,” Joel Vanderbush, Niabi’s Curator of Conservation & Education, said in the report.

“Whether it is children plonking out random sounds or a skilled player providing a musical interlude for other Zoo guests, whenever someone stops playing, random visitors around them always clap for the player,” he wrote. “The OneSound Piano Project has helped provide guests at the Niabi Zoo with a joyful musical experience.”

Danner of Common Chord said that while they saw (in person and on video) professionally-trained musicians sit down and make music, “our favorite things to see were probably regular people – young and old – sit down to play chopsticks or ‘The Entertainer’ or just make some fun noise.

“We were delighted to see that due to their design, the pianos were very welcoming. People didn’t seem shy about walking up and playing, even if they didn’t consider themselves a musician,” he said.

Planning for 2023

Danner and Common Chord are in the midst of planning for 2023 — all the 2022 site partners have expressed their desire to participate again.

“And we also have a long list of other business and organizations that have reached out wanting to host a piano,” he said recently. “We are currently recruiting sponsors so that we can fund the program. Pending funding, we are hoping to expand the size of the program and place between 10 and 15 pianos next year.”

The 10 QC artists who painted pianos.

Of the first host sites, “some really loved the one they had this year and hope to have the same one back, and others are excited to change it up with a different one,” Danner said. “We haven’t made determinations on all the placements yet, though, so once we put the program together for this year and get everything lined up, we’ll be able to announce participants, etc.”

Pianos will be placed by Memorial Day weekend 2023.

OneSound was designed to create spontaneous musical experiences throughout the QC region and engage the general public with music.

“Working with our site partners and sponsors, we were able to identify 10 important public locations throughout our community. By placing a beautifully-painted piano in each location, we were able to help highlight our partners while creating accessible music-making opportunities for the public,” according to Common Chord. “By bringing music and visual art to these spaces, we highlight both the quality of our public spaces and our arts scene.”

For more information on Common Chord, visit its website.