At 93-years-old Pat Russel can still make beautiful music

Downtown feature hits a high note

Tucked into an alcove on 30th Avenue, a brown bench awaits anyone interested in taking up a seat at a piano

Although no major stars have plunked its keys yet, like Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler’s mini performance in Kelowna Monday, Vernon has tuned into the idea of a public piano.

Tucked into an alcove on 30th Avenue, a brown bench awaits anyone interested in taking up a seat to make music on the black and white keys of an old piano.

Most people pass right by the large instrument without even noticing, while others stop and consider letting their fingers play.

“It’s free for anybody to play,” said Lara Konkin, Downtown Vernon Association executive director. “And it has been played like crazy.”

Although the DVA applauds the idea, they aren’t the ones behind the music.

It’s a legacy former Good Gracious owner Dave Russell has left behind as he ventures into retirement.

After seeing Kelowna’s popular city park piano in action earlier this month, Russell wondered why Vernon didn’t have one.

And as it turned out, he had just the spot in an old entrance – since city bylaws won’t allow anything to be put on the sidewalk, which is city property.

The next struggle was finding a piano.

“If you go on kijiji and Craigslist they’re everywhere, people are giving them away (in places like Vancouver), but I couldn’t find one in Kelowna or here.”

Finally he found one in the back corner at Dodd’s Auction, which had failed to sell numerous times, therefore he got a good deal on it.

And Vernon’s downtown public piano came to life.

“They can come and release their musical instincts for a minute or two, or five or 10,” said Russell who has heard some incredible talent so far.

“There was a lady who played The Entertainer for five minutes and wow she was good.

From his eye-catching store fronts to his flashy, neon runners, Russell is the type of guy who likes to make people turn their heads. And he has succeeded with his latest addition.

“We just did it to entertain people,” he said.

From children tugging at their mom’s arms for a chance to pound on the keys, to a 93-year-old who had the store staff clapping along and even an Enderby man who is using the piano as therapy for his hands following an injury.

“I haven’t played in 15 years,” admits the rural resident, who didn’t want to be named. “I’m just thankful that a kindred soul would be kind enough to put that out there.”

Even the mail lady enjoys it, although she has yet to play.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea. This is the most happening block.”

But that’s just the 9-5 business hour attention.

Curious if the piano sat lonely and untouched at night, Russell decided he’d take his wife for dinner across the street after closing up shop one night and see if anyone came by to play.

And play they did.

“But who knows what happens at midnight or two o’clock in the morning,” he said.

And, knock on wood, no one has vandalized the piano yet.

“It’s pretty well respected now,” said Russell, who says the piano will be put away for the winter and hopefully hauled back out in the spring.

The next step is to make the piano a little more attractive by painting it.

“I’d like it to come from the street,” he said, urging anyone interested in applying some tasteful art to contact the store.


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