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Picnic kicks off season of outdoor piano playing

Town of Okotoks’ staff are taking advantage of the rising temperatures to get more people outdoors - even if it’s just for lunch.

Town of Okotoks’ staff are taking advantage of the rising temperatures to get more people outdoors - even if it’s just for lunch.

The culture and heritage department is inviting residents and business people to lunch at a series of free piano concerts in the Olde Towne Plaza this spring and summer. The first Picnic at the Piano event is May 25 from noon to 1 p.m.

“This series is primarily for residents, people that work downtown that are looking for something to do for lunch anytime during the summer,” said Allan Boss, culture and heritage manager. “They can bring their own lunch or buy lunch at a local restaurant to go.”

A 1936 Kreisler piano, made by Mason & Risch in Ontario, was donated to the Town last summer by Okotoks resident Art Gieck.

“We put the piano out in mid-summer so there wasn’t much time to really plan for a season with it, but the idea was always to do something more with it,” Boss said.

The Town put a call out to Foothills artists in January to submit designs for the chance to paint the piano.

Okotoks artist Danzel Carrasco won the contest and spent the last few weeks painting.

“The design started as a robot doodle and then I based the final design on wires in a machine,” said Carrasco. “The wires travel throughout the piano.”

In addition to bright colours and black outlines, the 22-year-old artist added the message “come play” with musical symbols throughout.

“I ditched a lot of designs and ended up focusing on this one,” she said. “It was really important that the design worked as a whole. There is letters in it, there is musical notes. It flows together and works really nicely.”

Carrasco has also been asked to perform on the piano.

“I’m nervous,” she said. “It’s been a while since I’ve done a recital or anything.”

Following Carrasco’s short performance, Calgary music therapist and pianist Marc Houde will speak about the holistic benefits of music and do a performance of his own.

“I will be featuring a bit of classical and some jazz standard on the piano,” he said. “I’ve never performed the piano outdoors. This is a whole new experience for me.”

Houde is a musical therapist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and teaches Suzuki Piano at the Mount Royal University Conservatory.

“When I do some performing in the cafeteria at the hospital many people just stop in their tracks and take a moment to listen to the music,” he said. “It’s got tremendous benefits just to have some live performing in our environment, which is a very different experience than a radio.

“It’s a different experience to have the live acoustic sounds of instruments near us.”

Picnic at the Piano will take place during the lunch hour one Wednesday a month in May, June, July and August, as well as during Alberta Culture Days in September, said Boss.

“We primarily do our events on Saturdays in the downtown core,” he said. “We began thinking, what’s next and how do you start to enliven Okotoks to make it a place that people want to be.”

Boss said this event caters to people who live and work in the downtown core.

“People want to get out of their office for a little bit at lunchtime so what a great opportunity to go and get entertained for free,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for people to come out and enjoy their lunch with some great music in the park.”

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