Playin’ Around South Orange returns for 4th year

Masters in the musical and visual arts join forces for SOPAC-headed Playin’ Around SO initiative

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and music and art were front and center as Playin’ Around South Orange returned for its fourth year, on Saturday, Aug. 27, bringing live music and art in the form of hand-painted pianos and outdoor performances to seven South Orange locations.

The project, presented by SOPAC, began Aug. 27 and runs through Sept. 25, with Wednesday-night jam sessions scheduled each week of September in the Sloan Street Gazebo from 5 to 7 p.m. Other community supporters include The Baird, South Orange Village, South Orange Village Center Alliance and Seton Hall University.

The pianos can be viewed at the following South Orange locations: Sloan Street Gazebo, The Gateway, Spiotta Park, Meadowland Park, South Orange Public Library, Irvington and Fairview avenues, and in front of the Bishop Dougherty University Center on the campus of Seton Hall University.

Each year, local artists complete an application process for the honor of transforming an old piano into a contemporary piece of art. On average, each artist donates up to 30 work hours per piano to bring this musical event to life. Paint and supplies either come from the artists themselves or are donated by local businesses.

Bill Billec, a third-time participant, created his own take on a “Star Wars”-inspired baby grand located at The Gateway. The Friends of the 1978 Gallery in Maplewood painted and donated their piano, which is located at Irvington and Fairview avenues.

Breakout mother and daughter duo, Elizabeth and Allie Sobio, painted an awe-inspiring, picturesque piano featured at Spiotta Park.

“I am honored to be selected to work on this project,” Elizabeth Sibio said in a recent press release. “Not only was it a great project to work on the piano with my daughter, but I think it also increases appreciation of beauty and culture for all walks of life. I also consider art to be therapeutic for me.”

A rising Columbia High School senior and participant in the Inspired Minds Exhibit, Emily Katherine Glynn — daughter of former artist participant Marie Elena Glynn — painted a vibrant Elton John-themed piano, now located at the Sloan Street Gazebo.

“I’m really excited because I’ve seen my mom participate in 2013 and last year. I think I’ve subconsciously been planning to do one too,” Emily Katherine Glynn said.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the South Orange Public Library, friends and staff pitched in to create the timeline of the library’s events on a piano located at Cameron Park. Seton Hall University’s Student Government Association painted the piano located at the Bishop Dougherty University Center on the SHU campus.

Local artist Anjole King was thrilled to be included among the artists for a second year in a row, and didn’t hesitate to go with her first love — animal prints — for the design.

“I came back for a second year because I loved the experience of my first year. When you are working on your piano, you want it to almost come alive and you feel like a part of you is literally on the instrument,” she said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “My inspiration was that I love animal prints — I love prints and fabrics and textiles. I just like funky cool looking things and it really reflected my style and my appreciation for animals.”

King, a Fashion Institute of Technology alumna with a love for art, was introduced to the project last year while running a theater camp at SOPAC as part of her position with the South Mountain Y in Maplewood.

“The people running Playin’ Around South Orange heard that I was an artist and asked me if I was interested in the event,” she said. “So, literally, every day after work I would go to the basement and paint.”

And the artists weren’t the only ones excited about being involved; the musicians who tickled the ivories for an hour at the Aug. 27 kickoff event were equally as enthusiastic.

Carmen Staaf, a Brooklyn-based jazz musician heard about Playin’ Around South Orange through friends in her musical network, which includes Mark Murphy’s Music in South Orange, and was interested in participating. For the kickoff, she played on the piano decorated by King and located at the SOPL.

“It was a lot of fun to be outside and playing in a nice setting in this beautiful background by an amazing piano,” Staaf said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “It was a kind of an unusual experience to get to play on a piano like that.”

Pianos are donated by various individuals from throughout the community. SOPAC’s community engagement director, Linda Beard, works throughout the year to procure the pianos.

“People get more and more excited about this project every year,” she said. “With the addition of the Friends of the 1978 Gallery piano, and the 150th anniversary of the South Orange library celebration piano, it feels as if more and more groups are getting into the act. We love the fact that this project is for the community and by the community.”

All seven pianos are up for auction at through Sept. 25, when Playin’ Around South Orange is scheduled to end. More information on the auction, jam sessions and pianos is available on the SOPAC website at

Photos by Shanee Frazier