Charlotte's Pianos for Peace are for anyone to play, composer Malek Jandali says
Malek Jandali started Pianos for Peace with a mission back in 2015: try to uplift people and transform communities through music and education.
Since then, the Atlanta-based nonprofit has put on music therapy workshops, helped with healing arts programs, had volunteers play bedside performances and worked with public schools in Georgia to enrich arts education. Perhaps it's best known for the Pianos for Peace Festival, which has put dozens of colorfully painted pianos across Atlanta for people to play — one of the largest public arts displays in the city.
But Jandali, an internationally known composer and classical pianist with 11 albums under his belt, wanted to bring the experience to the Queen City. After all, he's the composer-in-residence at Queens University of Charlotte, his alma mater.
"Touring the world, I've seen all these painted pianos in Paris and London — you name it," Jandali said. "I wanted to bring it back home."
So, for the first time, Pianos for Peace is here. Five pianos — each adorned with paintings from local artists and students — have been placed at public locations in Charlotte. Two are on the Queens campus. Two are uptown, at the Mint Museum and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. And one is at Camp North End.
“It’s art on art," Jandali said. "I believe art, especially music, has this magical power to inspire, to unite and to form a beautiful symphony for peace, sharing our ... American values of equality, justice and, most importantly, peace.”
Pianos for Peace kicked off locally on Sept 21, the U.N.'s International Day of Peace, sponsored not only by the university but Qatar-USA Year of Culture. The pianos are "for anyone and everyone to enjoy," Jandali said.
And that's an important distinction: Musical expertise is not a requirement for participation.
“You don’t have to know how to play the piano,” Jandali said. “You can just come and have fun with it.”
Promoting peace and empowering people through music is a passion of Jandali's. The proceeds from his most recent album, commissioned by the university, were sent to support Syrian children in refugee camps. He also has an International Youth Piano Competition, and in 2014 was awarded the Global Music Humanitarian Award.
After the event wraps on Monday, Oct. 4, the pianos will be donated to Charlotte-area nursing homes and Title I schools. Pianos for Peace is still working out the Charlotte details, but the nonprofit has donated dozens of pianos to community-based organizations in metro Atlanta over the years. The plan is for volunteers to stay involved wherever the pianos land, helping with musical enrichment programs.
Jandali says it's all about building cultural bridges. He recalled a moment involving a Pianos for Peace piano that stuck with him — one he's recounted in a few other interviews over the years.
“I remember vividly when a homeless person was playing Chopin, and I was in tears listening to a beautiful performance,” Jandali said. “So it breaks down all these barriers and we go to our shared values of humanity. Everybody is an artist, and we are all ambassadors for peace.”
Of course, he's happy with far less than breathtaking renditions of Frédéric Chopin.
"To me," Jandali said, "if you just see a kid with a smile on these pianos, mission accomplished."
The Pianos for Peace pianos outside of the following locations in Charlotte through Oct. 4: The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Mint Museum Uptown, Camp North End and the Queens University campus at Trexler Courtyard and the Sarah Belk Gambrell Center for the Arts and Civic Engagement. You can learn more at pianosforpeace.org.