From Virtuosos to Beginners, Everyone Gets a Chance to Play.

The tune sounded familiar, but the title of the song eluded me. I was about to step over and ask the piano player what it was, but the light changed and we had to get across the street to catch the trolley.

Cross the street? Yes, we were standing on 16th Street in Denver, where pianos and piano players are a common sight on busy sidewalks. Now, there’s a WOW-and-a-half!

A Passer-By Chatting with a Young Musician on the 16th Street Mall in Denver  (©

Music has always been an integral part of the Denver downtown landscape, but since late 2009, the sound of multiple street pianos has entertained locals and tourists along the 16th Street Mall. Every year between May 1 and September 30, anyone who has the desire to play can sit down and make their own music daily from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m..

When I say anyone, I mean anyone. You’ll see trained pianists playing Chopin, little ones picking out the notes to the Sesame Street theme, aspiring musicians showcasing their original compositions and members of the city’s homeless population playing for enough tips to get them through the day. These, and many more take their places at the 17 brightly painted pianos along the 16-block mall area and each one transforms at least one person’s ordinary day into something special.

Couple Stop to Enjoy a Few Minutes of Music Together  (©

The pianos gracing the sidewalks of 16th Street Mall are a result of the efforts of the Downtown Denver Partnership’s “Your Keys to the City” program, which provides the instruments for any member of the public to use.

The pianos are are covered at night, and during inclement weather. When the pianos are removed from the sidewalks for the winter, they are cleaned, repaired and decorated by local artists, ready for the next season of spontaneous music. Rocky Mountain scenes, Denver landmarks and interpretations of famous paintings are among the piano decorations that will catch your eye, while the music catches your ear.

A Photogenic Moment for One Tourist  (©

“Your Keys to the City” was modeled after similar programs in major cities. Most of the instruments have been donated by every day people who believe in the simple pleasure the program brings to both musicians and listeners.

Whatever that tune was, hearing it on a dull day on a downtown street corner made me smile. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to find sudden delight in an unexpected place. And when we do, it’s sure to be a WOW.

Have you had an experience where something unexpected made you smile? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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