April 22, 2021
Special thanks to Renee Sonka, MPA visual arts teacher
Upper School Applied Painting Class paints a piano together every year, as part of an in-depth collaborative project in conjunction with a local non-profit, Keys 4/4 Kids.
Last year, they barely began when virtual school halted their progress, making this type of group painting temporarily impossible. They carefully resumed this semester, and they finally have the exciting results to share!
This, their ninth collaborative piano, references a mural by Xavier Gonzalez. The mural originally hung at Dixie’s Bar of Music in New Orleans. It was damaged during Hurricane Katrina, restored in 2018, and now hangs at the New Orleans Jazz Museum. See the mural and learn more here.
Before painting, they prepared for weeks, learning about the history of the mural, building context by studying a timeline of related regional murals that led to this one. They considered racial relations then and now, wove in jazz history, and factored in economic trends (it was painted post-depression and so is a celebratory shift from Gonzalez’s previous work). They learned about every person featured in the full mural as they discussed at length why these individuals may have been included as well as why they are portrayed as they are. Look closely and you will see Lena Horne, Glen Miller, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, and so many more. The historians at the New Orleans Jazz Museum have been very supportive of this project, approving MPA’s request to reference the mural and sharing much information about it. While students worked on this painted piano in shifts, they simultaneously worked on their own individual paintings, inspired by the musicians featured in the mural.
Being it took two years to complete under such challenging circumstances, Ms. Sonka says, “it feels like a birth of some sort to see it finally come to life. Drawing connections between art, music, and history, while reading, writing, discussing, and painting, this beautiful piece is a grand culmination of interdisciplinary, hands on, content rich, interest driven, project-based learning!”
The piano is currently on display in the study room in the Upper School Commons, along with the related individual paintings done by the same students.