Waterproof Wurlitzer headed for the Green

Gina Bonfietti has been tuning the 1961 Wurlitzer piano that was last at Harborside Middle School since 1991, and before that her late father, Gino, tuned it. Now, Bonfietti is taking the old piano apart and putting it back together, incorporating some unique waterproofing methods so it can be set on the Milford Green for all to play.
It will be Milford’s first outdoor piano which, Bonfietti explained, has become a thing in communities looking to promote the arts and music.
To make this piano waterproof enough to last one summer, or more, on the Milford Green, Bonfietti will be taking each key out and filing it down on both sides, painting and shellacking them so that outdoor moisture doesn’t swell the keys and cause them to lock together.
“We want the water to run right through the keys,” Bonfietti said.
Bonfietti, a piano technician, has planned other improvisations to make this Wurlitzer waterproof, such as removing some pieces of felt that won’t do well with moisture, and likely using a shower curtain to cover the inside of the piano, possibly drilling holes for ventilation, and a lot more.
When all the work is done, Ally Whaley, an 18-year-old Milford artist, will paint the outside of the piano in some colorful fashion.
Whaley said she’s open to ideas, noting that some people suggested a beach theme, but she’s leaning toward something a little more eye-catching.
“I was thinking of a rich, beautiful floral design,” Whaley said, “using some beautiful bright colors for the summer.”
Bonfietti explained that outdoor pianos are trending. She talked about Free Keys CT, which launched last year to coincide with “Make Music Day,” placing pianos in public spaces in Branford, Guilford and Madison over a 10-week period during the summer tourist season.
“Spontaneous performance in a public space encourages community and creativity, adding to the vitality of our towns,” states the Free Keys website.
Bonfietti also pointed to the artistic endeavor Street Pianos that has brought colorfully painted pianos outside in countries around the world. Luke Jerram, international artist and creator of “Play Me, I’m Yours,” pushed the street piano concept with his artistic installation of outdoor pianos, first commissioned in Birmingham, England, in 2008. The display brought 15 pianos across the city for three weeks, and according to streetpianos.com, “it is estimated that over 140,000 people played or listened to music from the pianos.”
“Since then more than 1900 street pianos have been placed in 60 cities, which have been played and listened to by more than 10 million people worldwide,” according to streetpianos.com.
That said, there is information Bonfietti has been able to tap to waterproof a piano: She’s been gleaning tips from Chuck Behm, a piano technician from Boone, Iowa, whom she said got a piano to last three summers in the outdoors.
This past weekend she planned to remove all the keys from the Wurlitzer, and her friend Sheetal Thite was tasked with numbering them for proper reinstallation.
Their time frame is pretty tight. Like the Free Keys folks, they intend to have this piano ready for Milford’s Make Music Day, which is June 21.
The piano is expected be placed on the Milford Green, roughly across from Milford Bank, and Bonfietti is hoping that some players skilled at tickling the ivories will sign up to play it that day. And for that day, and the rest of the summer, all are welcome to stop by and create music.
When summer is over, the piano will be moved inside, and if all goes well, it may last another season.
But Bonfietti is realistic. Wood, felt and the outdoors don’t mix well.
“It might be a one-shot deal,” she said, but added that it’s not hard to find old pianos that people no longer want and she hopes to keep Milford’s outdoor piano movement an ongoing thing.
This week she heard about a second piano that may be donated and painted, and placed outside the Milford Public Library.
Bonfietti, who has done mission work and other volunteer work, said she wanted to find something she could do for her community, and that’s why she decided on bringing this outdoor piano movement to Milford.
“I thought, ‘I wish I could do something that is meaningful’,” she said. “This is something I can do that is meaningful. We have the perfect Green for this, and our [school] music program is so great in Milford.”
Bonfietti has been working with Paige Miglio, director of the Milford Arts Council, and Julie Nash, Milford’s director of economic development, to bring the concept to Milford.
Miglio said she’s been wanting to see ‘moving pianos’ in Milford for years, and didn’t get far on the idea until Bonfietti approached her to say she could retrofit one for the outdoors.
Nash said the idea boosts local tourism efforts and is great for promoting the arts and music, and for making the Green an even more vibrant place to walk.
“All this is fabulous,” Nash said. “It’s a great thing to have on the Green.”
People who want to help Bonfietti, or have waterproofing ideas, can call her at 1-203-500-1040.