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NSA INSTALLATION: CONVERSATIONS WITH A DEAD PIANO

The evocative installation “Conversations with a Dead Piano”, created from old piano parts, opens on August 17th at the National School of the Arts. 

Guided by visual artist Usha Seejarim, renowned internationally for her reinterpretation of ordinary objects, the NSA Grade 11 learners have crafted remarkable individual and group work using the keys, hammers, dampers, coils, felt and strings from old, irreparable “dead” pianos as their creative palette. The NSA was privileged to have Usha Seejarim as an Artist in Residence at the school in early 2023 in a program funded by the National Arts Council of South Africa and the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme supported by the DSAC. As a School of Specialisation in Performing and Creative Arts, the NSA prides itself on offering learners the opportunity of working with industry leaders on unique projects. The exchange inspires creativity and provides access to the expansive professional viewpoint of a practising professional artist.

The brief was to create a transformative artwork using “dead pianos”. The installation is in the atrium foyer at the entrance to the school, where suffused light changes the dynamic of the work throughout the day.

Contrary to some popular belief, an average piano does not improve with age despite the apparent beauty and aesthetic of the wooden casing. A piano is a machine, and machines reach a sell-by date reaching a point where they do not play as they once did. A piano’s purpose lies in bringing through the vibration of music. A piano key is considered “dead” when it does not make a sound when struck. After a lifetime of service to music, or perhaps a lifetime of neglect, there is an undeniable redemption and beauty in transforming these instruments rather than letting them decay in a landfill or go up in smoke. Through the sacred transformative power of art, these dead pianos have been reborn into a new art form where they will continue to echo a vibration of beauty and creativity, safely airborne within the space of the NSA. 

The installation will open on 17th August at 18h00. Usha Seejarim will provide the “keynote” address and discuss the creative process. Supporting the installation will be the premiere of five selected original compositions inspired by the creative brief Compositions for a Dead Piano. These works were developed under the expert guidance of Chesney Palmer, NSA alum, PhD student, piano teacher, composer and assistant lecturer, during a workshop held during the winter holiday. The five learners whose compositions will be featured are Grade twelve learners Tumelo Sungululu, twins Zoe and Zita Gangaram, and Grade 11 learners Marcus Johnson and Bienvenu Muyombo.

The audience will also be treated to the premiere of Chesney Palmer’s original piece inspired by the idea of a conversation with a dead piano. “The composition narrates the story of this dead piano from the afterlife, reflecting on the decline of humanity and the immortalising power of music to both remember and reflect on deeper issues,” commented Palmer. 

All compositions will be performed by the multi-award-winning pianist William Earl, the NSA’s official music department accompanist.

The opening of the installation will be a ticketed event to raise funds for the art department at R100 a ticket which will include entry into a lucky draw. Patrons can buy physical tickets from the Marketing & Development House, through shop@artschool.co.za or at the venue on the 17th. 

The installation, along with source material, workbooks, designs and related products, will be open for public viewing daily from 18th August to 1st September from 09:00 – 16:00. 

The work will remain in the atrium in the foyer of the NSA for the next 12 months.

The National School of the Arts – Realising Dreams through Excellence in Arts and Academics. 

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Brenda Sakellarides

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