Kids raised in San Francisco are trained from an early age that digging in the (local) dirt or exploring mysterious objects found on the ground is seldom a good idea. This “no touch” rule is lifted at one very special place: the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, 55-acres of pristine green space located within Golden Gate Park. And for a whimsical two weeks, this bucolic wonderland gets even more magical, when 12 pianos are hidden throughout the gardens, a highly anticipated yearly event dubbed Flower Piano. We have all the details on this must-do event.

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Photo: Sunset Piano

Follow the Musical Map
From July 13 through the 24, another unique sound will be added to the garden’s soundtrack of buzzing bees, chirping birds and babbling streams. Twelve pianos of every style, from baby grands to vintage uprights, will be hidden throughout the garden’s 55-acres. We suggest you just start wondering and listen for the music, trying to determine it’s location based on sound alone. There is nothing more awe-inspiring than trekking down a trail only to discover a piano perched beneath the palm fronds. Unless it’s during a scheduled performance (see schedule below), visitors of all ages are encouraged to take a seat and tickle the ivories themselves.

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An Art Project About Music and Joy
2015 was the first installment of Flower Piano at the Botanical Gardens. It was dreamed up in partnership with Sunset Piano, a collaboration of two multi-disciplinary artists who are promoting piano culture and other good things in an increasingly complex world. Mauro ffortissimo and Dean Mermell have brought pianos to unlikely locations including the cliffs of the California coast to the streets of San Francisco. They use old donated or abandoned pianos, tuned up as well as possible. Find out more about Sunset Pianos other productions and projects (and how to keep the music going by donating to their crowdfunding campaign) right here.

Video: Flower Piano from Dean Mermell on Vimeo.

Listen to the Pros
While one of the most lovely surprises about this happening is finding out how many regular park-going folk are incredibly good at playing the piano, there are also plenty of opportunities to watch the pros do their thing. On weekends, everyone from SF symphony members to opera singers performing classical, jazz, Afro Cuban, psychedelic….pretty much everything and anything. For families, come by the gardens on July 15 and 22 at 10 a.m. for The Rabbit Hole Theater Company in the Garden. This magical scavenger hunt will have families use their eyes and ears to discover hidden, costumed performers in the gardens adjacent to the Friend (North) Gate. A greeter will launch the activity starting at the Friend Gate, giving families a clue card.

See the full schedule of Flower Piano events and performances here. 

Extra Special Events
New this year are two extra-special events: NightGarden Piano and the Twelve Pianos Film Screening. During NightGarden Piano (Saturday, July 22, 7:30-10:30 p.m.) beautifully lit pathways guide visitors to pianos aglow with performances by Sunset Piano all-stars and open pianos to play. Food and drink will be available for purchase and all proceeds help to fund Flower Piano (you can buy tickets, $40 each, here). On Saturday, July 15 at 7 p.m. the garden will host a ticketed screening of the documentary film Twelve Pianos, followed by a Q&A with Dean Mermell and Mauro ffortissimo, co-directors of Sunset Piano (buy your tickets, $12 each, here).

Flower Piano
July 13–24, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
1199 9th Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: sfbotanicalgarden.org

Did you see the Flower Pianos last year? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

–Erin Feher

photos courtesy the author except where noted