New York, Nu York: Jews and Pianos

There is an energetic non-profit organization in New York City called Sing For Hope, and it sponsors various initiatives to bring music, performance and art into the lives of everyday New Yorkers. One of their most popular programs is the Sing For Hope Pianos: for two weeks in June they place used but creatively painted and decorated pianos throughout NYC's five boroughs, mostly in parks or other easily accessed public spaces. Anyone stopping by during the daytime is invited to sit down and play the pianos, snap photos, admire the artistry, and enjoy the pianos.
In the past week I have already visited eight of these pianos (although 3 were locked at the time) and admired them, played them, listened to other people playing them, taken selfies at them, and so on. The designs have been fanciful and while some may shrug this off as a kitschy shtick, it does build community, exposes people to music in quirky places, and coaxes smiles out of people of all ages and agendas.
Last year the Sing For Hope group did not place pianos around town, which disappointed me. I had enjoyed the pianos in 2013, 2012 and a few other years. In 2013 I even won a photo challenge they issued, and was given a nice T-shirt for my effort. They also published a photo of me playing one of the pianos (I forget which).
When I sit down at these keyboards, I play sections of some of my favorite classical pieces such as Beethoven's "Fur Elise," CPE Bach's "Solfeggietto," Mozart's "Turkish March." I also play parts of old pop songs (the Four Seasons's "Sherry", "The Alley Cat") and a few other chestnuts. So this got me to thinking about what else but Jews and Pianos.
Jews and Music are a well-known pairing. We may be the People of the Book, but we are also People of Music, in a big way. And we have been throughout much of our history. Think of Miriam in the Torah, with her tambourine, the horns and trumpets of the Temple, the Psalms mentioning musical instruments, and so on.
The piano is only a few hundred years old but it has been a thing of joy in the hands of many Jews. Think of the famed songwriter Irving Berlin, who wrote out his many beloved songs on his piano ("Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Cheek to Cheek", "Puttin' on the Ritz" and hundreds more). Think of George Gershwin ("Summertime" and many more). Think of Arthur Rubinstein, Yefim Bronfman, Walter Hautzig, and many others who have played and composed at the piano. And how about rock and roll/pop keyboardists Billy Joel, Carole King, Neil Diamond? I'm pleased to note that some of these Jewish pianists are from New York City or have lived in NYC. It's not a coincidence that a city with many Jews and many musical opportunities has also produced many Jewish pianists.
So perhaps these Sing For Hope pianos will inspire a few young (or not so young) Jewish musicians, on their paths to glory.