Here begins a two-part exploration of how classical music can find itself in the unlikeliest of locations, well beyond the confines of the traditional concert auditorium. Previously, we have looked at how night clubs, inner city cafés, pubs, and even fitness centres are being used for classical performances. Places such as these lend a distinct ambience to the occasion, and more than that, they can bring live music to people who might otherwise rarely get to hear it.
One of the most unusual places where live music could happen would have to be supermarkets, and the idea has been tried in various countries.
One supermarket in France has a piano in its fruit and vegetable section for any willing and brave customer – see it being played here. Others in Toronto, Chicago and Christchurch, New Zealand, have hosted live performances to entertain shoppers. And a grocery in Austin, Texas, has its own stage for a bluegrass band.
We know of only one instance in Australia, and this is a pair of supermarkets in suburban Adelaide. Upright pianos in brightly painted colours can be heard being played in the grocery section of stores in Frewville and Pasadena, and the latter also has a grand piano in its florist and tea space.
Anyone can play, although what normally happens is that community-based or seasoned pianists put their names down for a 30 minute try-out during a weekday, and if deemed good enough by the store management, they can have a regular paid slot.
The program, which Foodland store manager Paul Mabarrack believes is an Australian first, began four years ago when he thought up and trialled the idea for six weeks.
“We watched how it went and the reactions of customers. At first they were really intrigued,” he says. “They would wonder why we were doing it, and if it was loud there were some complaints. But we worked through it and found that people enjoyed the experience and found it relaxing.”
“We put up a sign asking for pianists, who might be wanting to do it for all sorts of reasons, from students wanting exposure or retired people wanting to play for the love of it. Now we have around 30 pianists on our roster. The younger ones might choose a one-hour bracket, while the older ones might do two hours. It is up to them. We have a flexible arrangement.”
There are no requirements as to the music they play: it can be classical, jazz, musicals or the softer end of pop. “We leave it up to them,” Mabarrack says. “There is no curating. We only ask them to play quietly if they are thumping players. At first the staff wanted pop, but they came to be happy with the arrangement. They relax and enjoy it too.”
The stores also have classical and Spanish guitarists, and a harpist.
Mabarrack, himself a tango dancer, describes it as “a more radical idea for a supermarket, and one that requires a bit more effort”. However, he sees it as part of giving bricks-and-mortar shopping more of a community focus. For how it turns out in practice, including some in-store footage, see this news story by The Advertiser.
Next we look at music in cemeteries.