- Associated Press - Monday, June 21, 2010

NEW YORK | Music lovers played piano and sang along with strangers over an orchestra of horns, sirens and jackhammers — drawing applause from cabbies and sidewalk spectators — on the first day dozens of pianos were placed throughout the city as part of a public art project.

On a traffic triangle in the East Village, in a park with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop and at various other locations across New York, players flocked to the 60 pianos on Monday.

“This is the first time I’ve ever touched a piano,” said Lynette Morris, a 52-year-old hospital maintenance worker from the Bronx. She had just sat down at one of the instruments in the East Village, situated at the top of subway stairs.

“I can’t play, but I’m going to try,” Mrs. Morris said.

Moments later, as construction trucks beeped and traffic roared by, a more experienced player got his chance on the bench. New Yorkers, who don’t stop for much, halted in their tracks to listen as he ran through classics like Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy,” otherwise known as the “Peanuts” theme.

During his final number, “Let It Be” by the Beatles, a guy manning a nearby coffee cart stuck his head out and belted out part of the chorus.

“It’s amazing how a piano, in the middle of total urban chaos, will make everyone stop to hear the notes,” said Dana Mozie, who was visiting from Washington, D.C.

The two-week project, devised by British artist Luke Jerram, is making its first U.S. stop in New York. The instruments are open for public play from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. in most locations. Each has a tarp in case of rain, and has its own caretaker to unlock the keyboard each morning.

A few glitches were reported as the project started Monday. One piano had to be removed from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx because several of its keys were damaged by eager children, organizers said.

Other instruments had a few keys that didn’t work, and one spot in Brooklyn did not open at the promised 9 a.m., disappointing some would-be players who arrived on time.

Mr. Jerram has done the installation in several other cities since 2008 — including London; Sydney, Australia; and Sao Paulo, Brazil — but New York City is the largest so far.

In Battery Park, Don Nathman, a retired music teacher from Oregon, sat down and played Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” his white sneakers pressing the pedals as a crowd gathered around him.

“I saw it and thought, ‘Hmm!’” Mr. Nathman said. “Anytime there’s a piano, I like to play.”

When he finished, the group broke into applause.