A refugee playing the public piano in Bregenz, Austria Photo credit: Open Piano for Refugees
A refugee playing the public piano in Bregenz, Austria Photo credit: Open Piano for Refugees

In various German-speaking cities in Europe, a piano is being set up for days at a time, allowing amateur musicians to show off their musical abilities. The initiative collects money for refugees to study music in Vienna.

Over this past weekend, a grand piano was set up near the center of Bonn, a city in Western Germany. The piano was open to anyone who wanted to share their musical talents with the public. One individual played traditional classical music, fitting due to the fact that Bonn was where the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born. Another woman played the main theme from the popular 2001 French film "Amelie". 

Despite the scorching heat, passersby were enjoying the amateur piano recitals that were unfolding before them. In front of the piano was a sign asking for donations, saying that the money would go to help refugees.

From one city to the next

The initiative calls itself "Open Piano for Refugees" and began in June 2016 in Vienna, Austria. On its website, it says that "Our goal is to bring together people from different classes of society by providing a freely accessible piano in public places." 

The organization transports the piano from city to city, where it will stay for 3-4 days at a time. "Everyone is welcome to play. Everyone is welcome to listen," the organization's Facebook page says about the public pianos. The money is then raised to go to DoReMi, the "social music institute" in Vienna that runs the initiative. 

Donations to cover semester costs

At the institute, refugees are put in pairs with Austrian students with a tutor and take music lessons in the Piano, the Guitar, the Flute, the Oud and other instruments. Normally, one semester at the Institute costs 170 euros with one fifty-minute lesson per week for several months. The donations from the "Open Piano" project are used to pay for the 170 euros so that refugees can study at this institute. 

An amateur musician playing a public piano Credit Open Piano for Refugees

At the end of the semester, the students put on a concert for the public in Vienna. Most of the refugees taking lessons in Vienna are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. This past March to June, the Institute had 70 pupils, with around 50 of them being refugees. The institute also asks companies in the area to sponsor the refugee music students.  

Connecting people

"I like talking and connecting with people. When you are at the piano all day you see so many different emotions and different piano players," Udo Felizeter, one of the founders of the program told InfoMigrants. He transports the piano from city to city: So far; the Open Piano project has been welcomed in cities such as Basel, Switzerland, Stuttgart, Germany as well as all over Austria.

One study by German doctor and musician Hans Joachim-Trappe shows that music reduces depressive systems. Other studies show that it strengthens learning and memory and even improves academic performance. 

Felizeter says that the music lessons at the DoReMi school are extremely beneficial to the migrants and their integration in Austrian society. For the refugees, achievement in their music lessons could translate to more motivation to finding a job and learning German, he says. 

To Felizeter, the music also serves as a sort of therapy. "It's more than just music lessons. The refugees are doing better in school, they are more open-minded, they talk to people more," Felizeter added. "Their German improves as the music lessons are the only time in the week they are speaking German to Austrians outside of their German courses."


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