Pianos in park provide plenty of pleasure

You could always catch the event next year, but if you scoot, hurry, rush, scurry, dash or hustle, you can still experience it today or tomorrow.

“Flower Piano,” now in its fourth year, is an extraordinary outdoor non-guilty pleasure for anyone who relishes music.

It’s at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park and it’s free (to San Francisco residents, at least; merely $9 for anyone else).

Creator of the 12-day event is Sunset Piano, which this year expanded its more expensive after-dark counterpart, NightGarden Piano, to three days.

A promotional website correctly notes that a dozen pianos are scattered throughout the 55-acre garden, where visitors “are encouraged to play what they like, from chopsticks to Tchaikovsky.”

Add to that pop, rock, Latin rhythms, country and just about anything else anyone might crave.

Denise Perrier sings while Tammy Hall tickles the proverbial ivories at “Flower Piano” in Golden Gate Park. Photo by Woody Weingarten.

Played by no-name amateurs or big name, longtime pros like keyboard doyen Tammy Hall and vocalist Denise Perrier.

My wife, a jazz pianist who regularly plays in senior facilities throughout the Bay Area, and I attended last night and joyfully strolled through much of the garden. She sat down at three pianos, starting with the Luminescent Grand that flashed primary colors as she played and ending with one whose keyboard was totally tilted.

She hadn’t known we were going.

I took her as part of a MysteryDate®, where one of us arranges an activity without the other knowing where she or he is going until arrival time. It’s something we’ve been doing throughout our 30-plus-year marriage.

To toot my own horn, I’m finishing a book about it (and intend to insert a few tidbits about “Flower Piano”).

If you’re not finishing this article because you’re speeding off to the garden, know not to expect perfectly tuned Bösendorfer or Steinway pianos but older apparatuses that may have sticky keys or malfunctioning pedals.

But can play lovely tunes.

Tangentially, my wife and I last month saw a documentary film, “Twelve Pianos,” at the Rafael Film Center — with Mauro ffortissimo (co-founder of the collaborative Sunset Piano Project and a main focus of the doc) and filmmaker/musician Dean Mermell in person fielding questions.

The film, which is available on Amazon and shows the history of the project that’s meandered from the cliffs of Half Moon Bay to the streets of San Francisco to the lushness of the Botanical Garden, was — like “Flower Piano” itself — effervescent.

As were Mauro and Dean.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →