Is That Adele In Wooster Square?

Christopher Peak PhotoMusical chords resonated throughout the south end of Wooster Square, as a jazz musician struck out notes on a piano. A crowd took seats on city benches to listen; a mother danced with her baby.

That was the lively scene for one of the many impromptu recitals the past few days plunked out at the newly installed Wooster Piano, New Haven’s first outdoor piano.

Located in Russo Park, the piano is planned to stay up all month for anyone to play, from roughly 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., at which point it is covered with a fitted, weather-proof tarp. If the feedback’s positive, the piano will return after winter’s over, and others may start to pop up throughout the rest of the Elm City, too.

Lauren Brown, who’s behind the project, said she was inspired to bring the music outside by the outdoor pianos in Montreal, 50 of which are placed throughout the city every summer. Up there, “so many people are outside; they find ways to congregate and socialize. It takes them out of their homes,” she said. “Every time we come back, I say, ‘I think we can do the same thing here.’”

Already the piano is causing people to pause at the corner of Chapel Street and DePalma Court to listen to the tunes or play a ditty themselves, said Brown, an access analyst at Yale’s Sterling Library who has lived in the Wooster Square neighborhood for 13 years. Just as she’d envisioned, “there were people who had never met each other before stopping and talking,” Brown said. “It’s a contagious community feeling.” Brown herself doesn’t play, but she enjoys going out to “just enjoy the smiles on people’s faces” from a serendipitous moment.

Adele On Repeat

On recent days, professional players worked through elaborate arrangements by Shubert and Chopin, while amateurs trotted out well-known compositions, like the Chopsticks waltz and Fur Elise bagatelle. Adele’s “Someone Like You” was also on repeat. A couple people just banged the keys. Luckily, “usually, the people who are not so good don’t play for very long,” Brown said.

Brown said she hopes the piano can bring vibrancy to an underutilized space. Aside from the huge crowds that flock to the CitySeed Farmers’ Market every Saturday from May to December, Russo Park’s wide concrete avenue remains largely empty during the rest of the week. For many, it’s just a pass-through from the neighborhood’s Italian restaurants to Wooster Park. “You see a lot of people with pizza boxes, but they don’t really stop here,” Brown observed.

That’s not for lack of trying to activate the space. In 2014, the city’s landscape architect proposed beautifying the park with a flowered walkway, but only a few stones and sbrubs arrived. And this summer, a neighbor set up a daily pop-up cafe, Downtown Table, until she started law school at Quinnipiac.

Brown’s project should be cheaper and easier to manage. The piano, found on Craigslist, was donated by an owner who didn’t have room for it in her house. Volunteers — more are still needed, she emphasized — just have to unlock the lid in the morning and throw on the red, heavy-duty tarp at night. Another neighbor will regularly tune the piano — “not concert-tuned, but pretty close” — and kids at New Light High School, who’ll be learning how to play indoors during the winter, will also “funkify” the piano with some paint.

The project did have one big logistical challenge, though: getting a 400-pound upright piano in place. It didn’t help that Brown broke her leg playing tennis the day before the scheduled move. (“I hope the piano didn’t drop on your foot,” one neighbor, walking his dog, commented on Brown’s cast.) Her son, Zach Proulx, helped the parks department get it in the right spot.

Volunteers who want to get involved in opening and closing the piano can email Lauren Brown at

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posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 5, 2017  1:03pm

This is why I love New Haven. We are rich in talented people with creative ideas.
  Innovations like this are what make a place special.
  More, please.

posted by: Timothy G. ORourke Jr. on October 5, 2017  1:07pm


posted by: Bill Saunders on October 5, 2017  1:26pm

Great Idea! 
An awesome way to both showcase local talent and engage the community at large in a completely open fashion…

posted by: anonymous on October 5, 2017  1:37pm

Every real city has these, and they are long overdue in New Haven.  Not sure if this one is first.  One was in the Ninth Square for a while last year.

Are cleaning supplies nearby or is anyone coming by every few hours to clean the keys?  They can get sticky pretty quickly.

posted by: GroveStreet on October 5, 2017  2:27pm

Get this, Anonymous… Only five real cities in the world have an Ivy League school. Plus three other towns. So wherever you think is better, is probably not.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 5, 2017  4:52pm

posted by: anonymous on October 5, 2017 1:37pm

Every real city has these

True.They have one in Washington Square Park Greenwich Village in New York.

A Day In The Life Of “The Crazy Piano Guy” Of Washington Square Park
By Rachel Kaplan

His brother played it, so he picked it up at an early age. But when he turned 16, his father’s collection of piano music had so infiltrated his musical interest that Huggins decided to take a stab at that instrument instead. Now, years later, he sits at a grand piano in Washington Square Park, his audience ringed around him in all kinds of weather.
We all know Huggins as a park staple. But who is he? And how does he get that huge piano into the fountain? We spent a morning with him to find out.

9:45 am: We met outside of Manhattan Mini Storage on Spring Street, 0.7 miles from WSP. Unlocking the piano that weighs hundreds of pounds and wheeling it out of the elevator is a feat that Colin has come to master.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 5, 2017  8:14pm

Grove Street,

This article was about public spaces, community, and open engagement….
I did not see any mention that Yale was involved in this project, but if Lauren Brown is somehow a graduate of the University (which it appears she might be), I think it is important to note that fact in the article

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on October 6, 2017  7:54am

A first - 3/5ths has a post that does not include “gentrification vampires”!

BTW, nice story about the Washington Square piano.

posted by: wendy1 on October 6, 2017  2:37pm

If she has dough, can she help me with housing the homeless or buying subzero sleeping bags this winter???  A piano is nice but the least of our worries.