Striking a chord

Local art students breathe new life into old instruments

Transforming from bland to grand, five old pianos endured a makeover from local high school advanced art students through the “Keys to the Hill City” project. From basements to sidewalk pavement, the pianos were transported to Main Street in Lynchburg for public enjoyment.

music — The colorful and vibrant pianos on Main Street brought fresh energy to downtown Lynchburg. Photo credit: Leah Severs

Music — The colorful and vibrant pianos on Main Street brought fresh energy to downtown Lynchburg. Photo credit: Leah Severs

A fundraiser for the local arts programs in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, inspired “Keys to the Hill City.” The Lancaster art project involved professional artists decorating pianos and placing them around the city of Lancaster to raise funds for their local arts programs.

Libby Fitzgerald, the local project founder, worked with several high schools, including E.C. Glass, Brookville, Heritage, Virginia Episcopal and Jefferson Forest.

Fitzgerald gave advanced art students the chance to show their skills through the help of many different sponsors, including the James River Council for the Arts and Humanities. The council assisted Fitzgerald in locating funds and shelter for the pianos during their residence on Main Street as art students painted away, anxiously awaiting premiere day.

The high school students received the pianos in February and were given until May to finish painting and designing the exterior of the piano. Students were challenged to be expressive and creative, to take the project personally and portray their personalities in the final result.

“They were ecstatic, because the art teachers are always looking for something cool and different for their students to do,” Fitzgerald said.

Art teachers and the surrounding communities embraced the idea. Piano students from each of the high schools gathered at the premiere celebration on Main Street back in May and played on their school’s piano.


“My office is right up here, right above the alcove, and it has no windows,” Mark Schewel, owner of the Schewels near one piano’s location on Main Street, said. “It’s like a cave up there, so sometimes when I come in on a weekend or I’m working here by myself, I hear the piano playing under me. It’s so wonderful. It’s so different. It’s just so uplifting.”

The pianos are all diversely decorated, ranging from an assortment of spray-painted metals to a Beatles theme. The pianos may be very different, but all are significant to the community. The community has been able to bond over an appreciation for local art through a creative, musical approach.

“The power of music (is) to change people’s lives and to bring great joy to people,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve always been a music lover, but I don’t think you realize how broad that love is and sometimes is not expressed.”

According to Fitzgerald, the pianos will be taken down in October due to the effects the weather could have on them. The community has not seen the last of the “Keys to the Hill City” project, though. Fitzgerald plans to bring back the project next February and have more schools participate to bring art, culture and music back onto Main Street and the Art Culture District of Lynchburg.

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