From dusty piano to art for Everett’s Street Tunes

EVERETT — The piano used to sit in our living room, covered with dust and the occasional cat.

I tried lessons in first grade. I can plunk out “Do-Re-Mi,” “Ode to Joy” and “Jingle Bells.” I hated practicing. I’d much rather be shooting a Nerf pistol at my little sister.

So earlier this month my parents donated the piano to the city for a project called Street Tunes. Artists take people’s pianos, turn them into art and put them out onto the street in downtown Everett for everyone to play. You can find our old piano downtown beginning Wednesday.

Last week, I got to meet the artist who was working on our old piano. His name is Dennis Hacker. He is tall with a shaved head and a wiry goatee. He wears black overalls with paint on them, flip-flops and sunglasses. He grew up in the desert in California and moved to the area in 1972. He built airplanes at Boeing for many years.

What makes him an amazing artist is that he never had any professional training except for one class in eighth grade. He always drew and tinkered with things when he was a kid. Dennis said he always loved listening to music while he painted, to help solve problems in his life. He told me, “Music brought me a lot of relief.”

He is renting a space at 3231 Creatives, an old building on Broadway in Everett that has been divvied up into studios for artists and craftsmen. It’s a really cool space, and there’s art everywhere. Dennis’ area is separated from the other studios by a giant red plastic curtain. Outside, under a tent, is a parade float he is working on. He didn’t get it done in time for the Fourth of July parade. He wants to build a traveling stage for a band to play on. It’s all really amazing.

In Dennis’s studio, I found the piano already partly painted with a mix of jumbled colors and lines on the sides, with neon orange in the background. The top was taken off so you can see the guts of the piano, and watch them move while you play.

He’s not finished. Some people told him, “Just paint the damn piano,” but he wants to make it special. He may add some extra seats to the piano. He plans to put a plastic covering on the piano so it can sit out 24-7, and if someone is waiting for the bus at 2 a.m. after having a few more drinks at a bar than necessary, they could just sit down and play.

Dennis said he always likes to put a lot of chaos in the background in his art, and then paint over it. He also likes to find stuff on the side of the road, and make that into art, too. In his workspace I found old fishing floats, empty liquor bottles, a plastic skull, a bird cage, a lamp shade and a gigantic wedge of old wood, which he said he was going to turn into a monster slice of watermelon.

I’m glad our piano gets to be enjoyed by others. As soon as it’s on the street, I’m going to find the piano, make a song up on the spot and play it loudly for all to hear.

Alexis Smith, 11, is about to start sixth grade at Evergreen Middle School in Everett. She swims for the South Snohomish County Dolphins and enjoys baking cheesecakes, reading and climbing trees. She is the daughter of Herald writer Debra Smith.

Street Tunes

The third annual Everett Street Tunes is scheduled to run from Wednesday through Aug. 22. Musicians — both professional and novice — are invited to play any of 10 pianos placed on downtown Everett streets. This year, five artists have painted five new pianos: Jules Anslow, Dennis Hacker, Jody Carlson Cain, Jesse Jeter James and Cathy Tanasse.

Here are the locations of the 10 pianos that will be displayed druing the third annual Everett Street Tunes. Also included are the names of the pianos and the artists.

•Everett Transit, 3201 Smith Ave., “Sun in Raven in Whale,” Jane Meagher and Darrin Hess

Comcast Arena, 2000 Hewitt Ave., “Summer Reflections,” Shannon Danks

Café Zippy, 2811 Wetmore Ave., “Spinet 24/7,” Dennis Hacker

J. Matheson Gifts, 2615 Colby Ave., “Peek,” Jules Anslow

Mermaid Café, 2932 Colby Ave., “Meow Art,” Cathy Tanasse

Schack Art Center, 2921 Hoyt Ave., “The Jimi Hendrix Experience,” Jesse James Jeter

Everett Main Library, 2702 Hoyt Ave., “The Scenic Route,” Jody Carlson Cain

Wicked Cellars, 2616 Colby Ave., “Music Leopard Lounge,” Janet Wold

Sisters Restaurant and Sno-Isle Co-op, 2804 Grand Ave., “Buccaneers!” Lyussy Hyder

Renee’s Contemporary Clothing, 2820 Colby Ave., “Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love,” Cheri O’Brien

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