Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pianist Keyed Up about Mixing Art and Athletics

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pianist Keyed Up about Mixing Art and Athletics

Article excerpt

It would be challenging enough to travel by bike if you were, say, a guitarist, a saxophonist or even a tuba player.

The man who goes by Mr. B hasn't put aside his dreams of touring on two wheels, despite being ... a pianist. In fact, he's made it the visual signature, or gimmick, of Joybox Express.

Mark Braun, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based blues/jazz player, has logged 800 miles across his state hauling his 350-pound piano on a special bike pedaled by three riders. On Friday, he comes to the Roots Cellar via Calliope: The Pittsburgh Folk Music Society, joined by singer Billy Price, who has a long association with Mr. Braun's bassist, Pittsburgh-based pediatrician Carl Hildebrandt.

"I've always been involved in many facets of athletics and music," the pianist says, "and a lot of people find those two things to be mutually exclusive, and that always bothered me, because I love them both. I'm middle-aged, I'm 55, but in my 20s, I dreamed of putting a piano on a bike and did nothing about it for, like, 30 years. Turning 50, you start to smell the finish line and start to think about the scope of what you can do, especially physically, and the dream was reawakened. The second aspect is, I thought I wasn't being a very good community member, other than offering my music for people."

He decided to use Joybox Express as a vehicle to raise awareness and funds to help organizations that provide children with access to arts and athletic programs. Next year, the Express, fearing that a cross-country trip would be too daunting, plans to tour the length of the Mississippi River, from Minnesota to New Orleans, reaching out to local communities along the way.

What are the hazards and difficulties of hauling a piano on a bike?

"One time we had it going 38 mph going downhill," he says excitedly, then adds, "That's too fast.

"It's tempting," he continues, "because whenever you get a big downhill, you just want to take it for all it's worth, because it's so hard going uphill. …

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