There sits an electric piano on Kikar Tzion* in Jerusalem, made of glass fiber and reinforced cement. It invites impromptu performances by anyone willing to stop for a while and tickle the ivories.
The light rail stops near-by, depositing passengers. Shoppers, visitors, tourists, people walking to work or sipping a drink at a café are enticed to sit down on the piano bench, shed their inhibitions for a few minutes and play in public. Or, they can choose to sit on the available benches and be an audience to those who do.
During evening hours, the piano area hums with people enjoying the ambiance and vitality of spontaneous, unrehearsed solos, duos and trios in a public area. The piano is open during the day, closes at 11:00 pm with a timer and rests on Shabbat.
This innovative experiment of Cadenza Piano, a company created by Evelyn Rubin and Professor Dan Kaufman, two Israeli entrepreneurs, has added color and life to this intersection. It has also put smiles and wonder on the faces of passersby, but especially on Asaf Meron, who is responsible for overseeing the project.
Asaf is a talented pianist and student at Mizmor, the music school at Givat Washington. Asaf's parents were immigrants. His mother was born in Tunisia and his father was an immigrant from New York. Asaf was engaged by Dan Kaufman to be present during the days and evenings, playing the piano, encouraging others to try, and being sociable and friendly to listeners. The experience has been a game changer for him.
"I love playing all kinds of music, and I like to please listeners," says Asaf, who plays with creativity, sensitivity and exudes charisma. "Through this experience, I have also learned to interact with all kinds of people—young and old, bashful and out-going, polite and belligerent, Orthodox and secular, Arabs and Jews." He has accompanied well-known entertainers and klezmers on the piano as well as amateurs.
One day, Adam Ippolito, a former pianist for John Lennon who happened to be visiting Israel, sat down to play. A group from Holland passed by, followed by a group of tourists from France. They were enthralled. A tourist from Florida stopped to listen to Asaf accompany a klezmer clarinetist. "I'm so moved," he said. "I came to visit Israel now and this musical experience reminds me of the music Shlomo Carlebach played when he was alive. I've thought about coming to Israel to live for a long time. This experience has clinched it; I'm coming on aliyah."
"It's thrilling," says Asaf, "to have scores of people gathered around the piano, clapping, singing, and requesting songs to be played, some bringing their own instruments to join the piano." Asaf encourages everyone visiting or living in Jerusalem to partake of this experience, either at the piano, as part of an ensemble, as a singer, or as an involved spectator. "It's a 'happening'. And it's in Jerusalem."
Rubin and Kaufman hope this trial run of the Cadenza piano, launched by Eden, the Jerusalem Municipality's development company, will spur municipalities and institutions all over the world to replicate the experience with these treated, concrete-encased pianos.