Internationally renowned composer and pianist Malek Jandali spends all day at the piano, yet he realized not everyone gets to experience the joy and peace music brings on a daily basis. This September he is on a mission to make pianos accessible to everyone in Atlanta through the second annual Pianos for Peace festival, Sept. 1-18.
“Pianos are usually not accessible. They are black or brown, on the stage and you can’t touch it – it’s only for the artist,” Jandali said. “But I believe everyone is an artist. I believe that art is nothing if it doesn’t impact every segment of our communities.”
Fifty beautifully decorated pianos will be displayed throughout prominent areas of Atlanta such as Piedmont Park, Midtown and the Fox Theater. Many more will extend to other areas of Atlanta including Avalon, East Point and various MARTA stations. The two-week event will conclude with a closing ceremony, complete with a choir and musicians, at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as a way to prelude the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21.
Jandali is well known for his dedication to peace and humanitarian efforts for Syrian children. In 2014, Syrian-American Jandali received the Global Music Humanitarian Award and was named one of the Great Immigrants from the Carnegie Corporation in 2015. He recently performed his ongoing tour, “A Syrian Symphony of Peace,” at the Sydney Opera House. Despite traveling all over the world, Jandali calls Atlanta home.
“Being a pianist and a composer at the same time, I’ve toured the world and have seen many programs similar to this. I felt the need to make the arts accessible to my own community in Atlanta,” Jandali said.
Last year, Jandali witnessed Pianos for Peace open the city up to music. He noticed piano teachers host private lessons in a different atmosphere. He heard of one homeless man who made $100 playing at a piano by the Fox Theater. Photos of people playing pianos along the Eastside Trail of the Atlanta BeltLine were popular on Instagram.
Each of the 50 pianos is hand painted to make them standout in each neighborhood and location. Pianos for Peace partnered with the Fulton County Arts Council to find local artists who create motifs and messages on each of the pianos.
Emmitt Stevenson, director of the Fulton County Arts Council, said he looked for artists within the communities where each of the five county arts centers are located. Artists including Ralph “rEN” Dillard, Amir Poindexter, and Diana Toma used rooms at the arts centers to paint.
Each artist brings their own definition of peace when painting for Pianos for Peace. Last year featured a “Coexist” piano painted by local artist Allen London who survived a potentially fatal accident and now volunteers at the Shepherd Center. Artist Sue Zullen Buitrago painted a bright red piano for Piedmont Park and a floral Garden of Freedom piano for the Doraville MARTA station.
The exact locations of this year’s pianos will remain a surprise with the hope that Atlantans will discover them on their own or through the Pianos for Peace app, which helps pianists explore all pianos, the artists behind them, and pinpoint locations.
“The festival is fun and allows for people to unite, but the real impact is when we donate the pianos to selected, deserving musicians who need the piano and the power of art and peace in their own community,” Jandali said.
Once the festival ends, the pianos will be donated to community centers, hospitals, nursing homes and cancer centers. According to Jandali, education is the key to promoting peace and many pianos have been donated to schools to revitalize their music programs.
Tri-Cities High School in East Point and Drew Charter School in East Lake both received pianos last year. Pianos for Peace donated a grand piano at the charter school, complete with a special delivery ceremony. When the piano reached the school, DeKalb County Police Department Major K.D. Johnson was appointed the “Peace Officer” and played the piano.
“Our goal was to unite the community and change the narrative about police,” Jandali said of the Drew Charter School piano. “Art is fun and entertaining, but art is powerful. You can change lives with art if it is meaningful and art can be a serious thing.”
Visit pianosforpeace.org for more information about the festival.