With its soaring redwoods and undisturbed ponds, the San Francisco Botanical Garden is a difficult place to leave once you’ve known its peaceful appeal. This year, Flower Piano treated the Bay Area to three days of the special event, held at night rather than during the day. Talented pianists, each with their own musical style, lured listeners to their own tiny corners of the serene location. Ranging from classic covers of Elton John to dark seance music, the variety of moods kept visitors thoroughly entertained as they wandered through the dark.
The most eye-catching piano of the night was placed toward the entrance so all could flock toward its mesmerizing glow. The luminescent grand piano was the event’s only transparent piano that lit up the faces of listeners in bright rainbow colors. Listeners couldn’t help but be sucked in by its hypnotizing colors and soft sound.
As attendees made their way across a bridge over dark water, many stumbled upon a cozy nook that emitted a soft glow. A luminous, warm chandelier hanging above the piano created a campfire feel. A swaying tree lazily hung like a curtain above the piano, gently sheltering lovers, families and friends. Although the music itself was choppy, the location transported listeners into a moment straight out of a fantasy world.
One piano, heavily blanketed by the trees that surrounded it, played a quick, breezy tune that flowed like a rushing river. Though many found it difficult to see in the dark, the song seemed to paint the sky blue as it sang. In the California Native Garden, a different pianist performed a contrasting melody, painting instead moments of falling snow.
The invitation of a glowing, moonlike orb brought several to the South Africa region of the garden. The jazzy and experimental band brought unfamiliar sounds to the ears of curious listeners. Each instrumentalist performed solos as the vocalist cupped his hands to his mouth and created a sporadic, rising and falling teakettle whistle. The raspy vocalist was by far the most boisterous, groaning like a seal and vibrating each note.
Beyond a hidden path sat another elegant piano on a wooden platform, the reflective water of a pond bringing a spiritual element to the location. The audience members requested a multitude of songs, pleading for their favorites such as “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey. The carefree crowd belted each one powerfully, laughing at the out-of-tune attempts. Kindly going past the time limit he had, the pianist played “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley to the loud, emotional audience that couldn’t let go of a night soon to be over.
Deeper into the woods, a pianist surrounded by candlelight recalled her frightening seance experience of hearing mysterious thuds and cracks in response to a melody she played. “I can’t promise you thuds and cracks, but let’s see what happens,” she said softly. Reality kicked in after she finished the disturbing but beautiful piece as no supernatural event occurred. Although this was the case, the music put listeners into a trance.
In her next piece, she reminisced about the time she composed a lullaby for a baby with sirenomelia at the Mütter Museum. She described the lullaby as “sweet” and explained that it spontaneously came to her as she empathized with the child. Each note eerily traveled through the leaves of the looming redwoods as the audience enthusiastically shouted, “Play until they make us stop!”
As the night progressed, people’s hearts only grew closer. In her final piece, the seance pianist described the vibrational energy of all things as “the hidden score,” or the unheard song of life. She urged listeners to find solace in nature rather than the distractions of technology. “Nature will save us! Music will save us!” the audience preached along with the pianist.
Beyond the chatter of the intimate performance, a young man got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend. “It’s just magical,” the pianist smiled. As people made their way out, the lingering warmth of music in the air beckoned listeners to come again soon.
Contact Alison Church at [email protected].