Lonely Planet Writer

Something magical happens when a medical student stumbles across a piano in an Irish train station

A lovely initiative has seen pianos installed in Irish railway stations in recent months, which has resulted in some amazing music being produced by passing commuters. This was particularly evident when Andrius Kovanas, a 19-year-old student at University College Dublin from Lithuania, held the capital’s Heuston Station spellbound recently with a beautiful rendition of Hans Zimmer’s theme from the movie Interstellar.

Eddie Halpin, station manager of Connolly Station, with the piano. Image: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Sharppix

The piano initiative began last year when Irish Rail was approached by self-employed piano tuner, John Murphy. He asked if the company wanted to partner on an initiative to install a public piano at Dublin’s Pearse Station for customers to use at any time. It agreed and the piano, complete with artist Sarah Edmondson’s illustrations, was unveiled to the public in September 2017. It proved to be such a success with the public, two more pianos were installed at Heuston Station, also illustrated by Sarah, and at Connolly Station, illustrated by Holly Pereira. A fourth piano is planned later this summer for Waterford Station.

Paul Butler and Alannah Stenson with the piano at Connolly Station. Image:
Lorraine O’Sullivan/Sharppix

“The theme of “Music Can Take You Anywhere” in a public transport environment has been embraced by our customers from the beginning,” says Barry Kenny of Irish Rail. “We have also seen piano students who may not have their own piano coming to practise in the stations. It’s about creating an atmosphere and little bit of magic in the station for customers passing through, and we look forward to the pianos delighting commuters for years to come.”

The piano at Heuston Station. Image: Iarnrod Eireann

For medical student, Andrius, who completed up to grade 6 in his piano studies, the instrument is a great way for him to pass the time before his frequent trips to his supermarket job. “Whether I’m playing it myself or listening to others, it certainly improves my commute,” he tells Lonely Planet News. “I was very nervous the first time I played, having never played in front of a crowd of that size. However, after playing for a few minutes, people showed support by clapping and complimenting me. This was definitely a confidence boost and I found myself playing it many more times since then.”

Social media analyst at Olytico, Stephen O’Leary, says that the initiative of having pianos in train stations is “gorgeous.” He captured the video of Andrius playing at Heuston Station, while he was waiting on a train to Limerick to deliver a keynote speech at a conference.  “I was standing watching a World Cup match on a TV in the station when I heard what I thought was a movie soundtrack playing behind me,” he recalls. “I turned around and saw that someone had sat down at the piano and was playing. He played for about five minutes, and once he finished, he simply got up and walked towards one of the platforms . There was no fuss – the moment just happened, and then it was over.”

As Stephen’s video of Andrius’s performance was widely shared on social media, it soon came to the notice of the student’s former piano teacher, Sorcha Fenlon. As the talented teenager has taken a break to concentrate on his studies, she was delighted to see that he still finds and learns to play repertoire that he likes. “That’s what learning the piano is all about,” she says.”I was thrilled to see and hear that he kept up his beautiful playing and was bowled over when I saw the video on my Twitter feed. It was lovely to see all the nice things being said about his playing by strangers.”

The piano at Connolly Station. Image: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Sharppix

Sorcha is a huge fan of the piano initiative and says that the piano in Pearse Station is constantly played. “I would play if I left myself enough time for my journey but unfortunately have never had the opportunity,” she says. “It is just so uplifting for people to stop and just listen and even to stop and just play. I think that sometimes it takes a lot of courage for people to sit and play for an audience, but with the pianos in the stations, your audience is all around and yet you don’t feel this pressure or nerves that you might from a focused audience. It makes it relaxed and casual and it’s really beautiful.”