A train station is not the first place you would imagine you would hear Claude Debussy’s Clair De Lune being played on a piano yet in Kent station in Cork that is exactly what can happen. Since September 2017, public pianos have been installed in five train stations across the country. Stations that were once a place of waiting to go from one place to another have become minute destinations in their own right, where people can interact with the arts and appreciate the talent of others. This countrywide project is credited to piano tuning and repair expert John Murphy, who envisioned opening public pianos in Irish train stations after he observed the positive impact of a similar initiative in train stations in the UK. He initiated this project in 2017, collaborating with Iarnród Éireann, to install the first piano in Pearse station. This was the beginning of the project that has since established roots in many cities across the country, spreading the knowledge of the previously unknown musical talents of many of the commuters who pass through these stations.
Kent Station is the fifth train station in the country to have a piano installed, after Pearse, Heuston, Connolly and Plunkett train stations. It was installed on 29th March 2019 to mark World Piano Day, the eighty-eighth day on the calendar year to signify the eighty-eight keys on a piano. The piano is tuned by John Murphy four times a year to keep the instrument in good condition. This initiative covers not only train stations across the country but has also spread to cover other transport hubs such as Cork and Dublin airports. The increased scale of this project in a short amount of time shows the power of this musical initiative and how the public are willing to show their support for it.
This project involves not only artist visionaries such as John Murphy but also local artists from across the country who decorate these pianos with their own artistry. In Kent train station, artist Gary Reddin was asked to design the piano. Within this design he emulated what someone might hear in Cork as they walk around the city. The piano’s inscription, ‘Come ‘ere to me Boy’ gives visitors to the city a taste of what they might hear as they walk down St. Patrick’s Street or through any of the local shops. Gary Reddin commented to BreakingNews.ie “Eventually I came to the notion that the piano is sitting in a train station and the idea of it calling out to somebody, but in a Cork accent. So it says ‘Come ‘ere to me boy’ as though the piano is actually calling you over.” in March when the piano was installed. Visitors to the train station are encouraged to play the piano when they pass through the station as they wait for a train to their destination. University Express talked to a staff member at Kent station about the impact this initiative has had within the train station, “it is a great bit of entertainment for the passengers [in the station]” and as I wait for my train I am encouraged by how many people I see going to sit down at the piano and play a tune.
As an onlooker for most of the time, I am amazed about how this public piano has reinvigorated a sense of life into Kent station and created a warm atmosphere of welcome inside the building. Even on cold November days, it doesn’t feel as chilly if you can listen to the sound of someone playing their choice of music. I have heard everything from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to Chopsticks to Bohemian Rhapsody during my travels through Ireland’s train stations and the one message that I have taken away with me is the affirmation that this project is there for the entire public to take part in. Be it as an onlooker or a pianist, you are adding something to the overall experience for everyone involved in that moment.
Thanks to this project’s conceptualisation it has reinvented our experience in a train station from one of waiting and looking fretfully at a watch to an experience of culture and entertainment. It has allowed the public to bring their own musical talents to the very fringes of the arrival’s halls in transport hubs, so commuters can be immersed in culture from the moment they arrive and leave the station.