Playing Piano in the Park

Many mornings, the man wheels his grand piano out of storage on Spring Street.

Backpack on his back, the man pushes the piano through Greenwich Village, then under the big arch made of white Tuckahoe marble, and parks it by the fountain in Washington Square Park.

And it is here – after he opens the lid, tunes the keys – that the man puts out one black bucket, sits down on another, and plays. Liszt, Chopin, Schubert, original pieces. The man, Colin Huggins, is classically trained.

Nine years ago was when he started. He was 30 or so. He had accompanied the American Ballet Theatre, was the music director for the Joffrey Ballet. But Mr. Huggins loved street performers and the heterogenous, unexpected crowds they drew. And he knew he didn’t want to waste his life away in an office under neon lighting.

So, he took to the streets with an upright piano and played to the people. And the people, these regular people who were surprised and delighted and moved by him, put bills in the black bucket, enough to cover rent. And busking with a piano became his full time work.

After a few more years, he had more than a few fans. And they told him the upright piano’s sound wasn’t good. So, he raised money from 167 of them and bought a baby grand off Craigslist.

These days, he plays year-round – falling leaves, melting snow, rising humidity. He’s gone through a few pianos. People listen to him, smile at him, dance to him. There are hecklers, of course. He gets it. They want to feel included in human society, he says.

His living is modest. But it’s the freedom of it that he loves. He chooses the hours, the pieces, the sounds he puts out into the park. It’s a life unobstructed by neon lighting or convention.

And once, when a local reporter asked him about it, Mr. Huggins told her, “There’s no artistic thing I’ve done in my life that’s been so free.”

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