Outdoor piano fosters creativity at Frontenac Secondary

Music teacher, Scott Davey, and a host of others, recently came together to bring a special musical experience to the students of Frontenac Secondary School (FSS) in the wake of the Pandemic.

FSS Campfire club and artist KT (seated front right) gather on Fridays to sing and hang out under the gazebo. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

“In July, I was thinking of ways to increase the presence of music at Frontenac. Because of COVID, some arts programs have suffered, particularly instrumental music. I wanted a novel, tangible way to incorporate music that wouldn’t be affected by the ever-changing rules surrounding COVID,” said Davey.

“In my travels over the years with my wife, we have often seen outdoor pianos, but it wasn’t until I saw a piano in Orford, Que. that it really clicked,” explained Davey. “One early morning, I saw two loud teenage boys skateboard up to the piano and then play some classical tunes, followed by very carefully tucking in the piano bench and restoring the cover. It challenged some of my assumptions. Witnessing that special moment, I thought perhaps this could work in a school environment.”

Davey approached FSS principal, James Bonham-Carter “and he thought it was a cool idea. In our initial meeting, he was already pondering some ways to mesh this with the culture at FSS. I think, like myself, he was curious to see how students would respond to the outdoor piano,” he shared.

Davey wanted to have the piano painted in a creative way, so, “I approached KT Narakorn Ruttanatisoi, a recent grad [and now a first-year student at Queen’s] who is a musician and visual artist, with the idea. She was very receptive, and since I ultimately wanted the final vision for the piano to be student led, I simply gave her some basic parameters and she designed and created [it].”

The creation was inspired by the movie My Neighbour Totoro, a 1988 Japanese fantasy film about a little girl and the forest spirits who live in her neighbourhood.

Davey is thankful to Home Depot, who  donated the lion’s share of materials and a beautiful cedar gazebo.

“Jenny, the store manager, was just as excited about the project as I was and was incredibly accommodating,” he expressed.

“The gazebo was a large project, so I recruited some help from family and friends – namely, Dan Wainman and Brian Childerhose. FSS Student Addison Hudson helped to lay the patio stones. In the final stages of the gazebo’s construction, KT’s family, David Schentag, Michael Nazarewycz, and Wendy Laborie, also pitched in to help.”

Davey said, “When the students saw the gazebo and piano on the first day back to school, I think it generated a buzz.”

It was certainly buzzing on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021 at lunch hour, when the FSS ‘Campfire Club’ gathered around the gazebo for a singalong.

“The organic jam sessions that happen during lunch and after school have been wonderful and encouraging to see,” said Davey. 

Davey revealed that FSS staff have also been finding exciting ways to add the creation, “Michelin Corneile hand sewed a vinyl cover and Van Sheen is making a bench. James [Bonham-Carter] thought it would be fine to start our October PA day with a short performance at the piano.”

And while the cold winter weather might freeze out the musical gatherings from the students’ itinerary for a few months, the warmer weather will serve as a rebirth for the new feature at the west-end high school.

“As things open up more in the spring,” said Davey, “ we plan to do more formal events and also encourage some local musicians to perform!”

Students and staff members jam around the outdoor piano as part of Frontenac Secondary School’s Campfire Club. Video by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

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