'Pianos for Peace' festival seeks to transform community by making art accessible to all

Composer and pianist Malek Jandali, founder of Pianos for Peace. (Courtesy of Dan Carmody)

Pianos for Peace” is one of Atlanta’s largest public art projects, created in 2015 by composer and pianist Malek Jandali. Each year, the organization aims to spread the message of peace by placing colorfully decorated pianos painted by local artists in various public spaces across the city.

The festival is underway now through Sept. 22. Founder Malek Jandali joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to share the Pianos for Peace mission and what this year’s festival brings to Atlanta.

Interview highlights:

How Pianos for Peace can fill communities with music, art and opportunity:

“Together, we try to uplift lives and transform communities by making the arts accessible to all; to everyone,” said Jandali. “This is the largest symphony for peace in our city. Everybody is welcome to come and play on this piano, enjoy them, film them, take advantage of all these amazing locations.”

“The word ‘community’ has unity in it, so we’re just trying to unite all communities through the magic of music and the soft power of the arts. Even though it’s so much fun, having all these colorful pianos painted by local and international artists, the real impact… after the 22nd, which is the closing ceremony at the Fulton County Government Building, featuring the African-American Philharmonic Orchestra and honoring two amazing women that day – after the closing ceremony, we take all these pianos and donate them to Title 1 schools, nursing homes, community organizations, healthcare facilities, and any other organization in need.”

Founder Malek Jandali’s journey as a classical musician:

“I started as a classical pianist, and during COVID, when all the concert halls got dark and, basically, touring vanished, I focused and switched mainly into compositions. So I am now a composer and resident at two major institutions; one of them is Queens University of Charlotte, and then the second is the Qatar Museums, where they have seven museums. I’m trying to preserve my culture. The culture of Mesopotamia is a global culture that embraces all religions, all cultures throughout history, and as an American artist, it’s my duty to preserve it and present it at the highest artistic level.”

“Many times, music and the arts are viewed as entertainment. It is more than that. It has this magical, soft power to change people’s perspective. Myself, I was born in Germany, I was raised in Syria, but with the liberal arts, with music, with my exposure through my musical journey, you become a better person. You connect with everyone as a human,” Jandali reflected. “You see the entire world as one symphony with no divisions, no borders, and that’s what music does. It transcends straight to your heart without anybody’s permission – with no geopolitics, with no borders, with no barriers.” 

On the impact of placing pianos in schools and on street corners:

“That’s our focus, the underserved community; especially Title 1 schools, where the arts and especially music, with all respect, has been hijacked from these amazing talents and students,” said Jandali. “What we are trying to do is to fill the gap, in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools system and the city and Fulton County Arts and Culture, to bring back these instruments and build a music program around it. You have to come and join us one day and see the amazing eyes and the astonishing expressions of the kids when they receive this colorful piano – I mean the joy, and the magic and the happiness.”

“I witnessed a homeless talent here in town. The guy was hesitant to touch the piano. At the end, he decided actually to sit and perform, and I was listening to Chopin, ‘Polonaises,’ in the street of Atlanta – an amazing talent. And for those few moments, when I was hearing Chopin’s ‘Polonaises,’ this human being was transformed from all the stigmas of being homeless into an artist… I wasn’t sure if we were impacting him, but at that moment, he was impacting us.”

The “Pianos for Peace” Festival is underway and continues through Sept. 22. More information and a guide to piano locations can be found at https://pianosforpeace.org/festival/