Thousands of students pass through the Erb Memorial Union every day. At most points of the day, the EMU is a chaotic assembly of over-caffeinated college students. But on the second floor of the EMU, juxtaposing the disarray created by Starbucks and Chipotle seekers, sits a 1950 Steinway Model B piano.
Since the year of its creation, all 88 keys on that piano have held the potential to disrupt, soothe or inspire those who sit on the surrounding couches and chairs. While most students at the university have heard the music that comes from this piano, here is a closer look at some of the pianists of the EMU:
At some points when you walk through the EMU, the piano appears to fight in competition with the surrounding noises. As the piano grows in volume, so does the collective disarray. But as Harrison Wiesert plays the piano, his music appears to fuse these two conflicting worlds and bring order. His body and hands glide over the Bavarian spruce piano keys, appearing to simultaneously portray his emotions and the energy of the happenings around him.
As a native of Eugene, Wiesert said he and his music have been molded by the liberal and nonconformist characteristics that personify Eugene. Often when playing in the EMU, he is using the structure of a song, but improvising everything else.
“Yes it has the fundamentals, the structure, but when I’m doing it, it’s complete musical freedom,” Wiesert said. “The interesting thing is, depending on my mood that day, or whatever state my mind is in, I can notice the difference in my music ability.”
While Wiesert plays, one slip of his hand and a wrong note may turn into the beginning of a new section. From the beginning to the end, Wiesert is experimenting to create something that will only exist in that time for the people that sit around him. For him, the ability to connect with those around him is what is most important.
“When people are willing to give you their attention, that’s the most important thing someone can give.”
When Jaiden Spicher is at the piano, it isn’t a very good time to study. Spicher doesn’t play the piano, she uses the piano to tell a story — a story so beautiful that onlookers have no choice but to give her their full attention. Her hands flow across the piano so quickly that it becomes impossible to distinguish one note from the next.
For those who are lucky enough to hear Spicher play, it seems obvious that she is passionate about her music. A talent like that doesn’t simply come from practice, it comes from an individual who is in love with their craft.
“There’s always more to learn; classical, contemporary, jazz, pop and then you can even start messing around on your own. Once you unlock that and you’re just doing whatever you want, it’s very freeing and opening. And that’s why I love doing it so much,” Spicher explained.
Often when Spicher is playing, people of all ages will come up to talk about music and other things. She said that having others say that her music touched them and made their day better is profound.
“Someone wrote me a letter while I was playing and handed it to me. He told me he was brand new at playing and how inspiring I was. Knowing that it is doing something for me, but also someone else, just hits differently.”
Even as the rain drizzles against the EMU windows and gloomy clouds threaten outside, Trey Greer’s music makes it impossible to not be happy. Growing up with an aunt that was in a choir, Greer listened to a lot of gospel music. He almost always starts by playing a gospel song and will often take the bass line of a popular gospel and completely change the melody. Depending on what the mood around him appears to be will often shape how he plays.
“I have to recognize that if it’s during finals or midterm week, people are trying to get some work done. I’m not going to go banging on the keys, distracting them and stuff,” Greer said.
When Trey Greer came to the university in 2015, piano music rarely echoed through the halls of the EMU. In an effort to encourage people to play, the university hired a select view pianists, including Greer, to play around eight hours a week.
Four years later, Greer is still part of this initiative, saying, “I think a lot of people see the piano there and think, ‘That’s not for me.’ Just getting us on there encourages more and more people to get up there and give it a try. Which is really a cool thing to see.”