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There is a vintage upright piano at Liberty Station that is creating community and opportunity with a special musical message. KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez introduces us to a couple of young musicians who turned a school project into a valuable lesson of hope and healing.

A piano becomes a passion project for two teenage musicians

A vintage upright piano displayed at Liberty Station is creating an opportunity with a special musical message.

The Ivers and Pond piano, located in an outdoor corridor at Dewey Road and Historic Decatur Road, is the creation of two young musicians who turned a school project into a lesson of hope and healing.

“This piano is significantly older. It's lived about three lifetimes," said Makena Stumpo, 14, who collaborated with his lifelong friend, Liam Koett, 14. They have been friends long before they could talk.

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Both boys are incoming high school freshmen this fall. Stumpo will attend Mission Bay High School and Koett is entering Cathedral Catholic High School.

Makena Stumpo, 14 (pianist), and Liam Koett, 14, collaborated on the design and installation of this Ivers and Pond upright piano now on display at Liberty Station, San Diego, Calif., August 8, 2023.
M.G. Perez
/
KPBS
Makena Stumpo, 14 (pianist), and Liam Koett, 14, collaborated on the design and installation of this Ivers and Pond upright piano now on display at Liberty Station, San Diego, Calif., August 8, 2023.

“There are lots of my signature style doodles, and there are skateboards; there are waves all over the piano," Koett said about the piano's artwork.

Koett is an artist who used acrylic paint and markers to draw. The piano became his canvas honoring the Ocean Beach community.

“It's a sun with rays shooting out, and a large-scale Ocean Beach pier with a bunch of waves breaking," Koett said.

Stumpo is an accomplished piano player and singer, while Koett plays the electric guitar.

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Together, they make music and create art.

The piano art renovation project began last October when they needed to earn community service hours at school.

The piano was headed for the junkyard, but the boys were sure it still had value and a reason to play on.

That’s when they reached out to the national Sing For Hope organization.

The New York City-based non-profit uses artists around the world to bring hope, healing and inspiration through art to people who need it most. The organization's signature project included the restoration and redesign of used pianos.

"Someone paints a piano (and) it's put in the public for about three weeks — that's where we are right now, in the public display," Stumpo said. "Then it's donated to a forever home, such as a hospital, a school, a community center — even someplace like this."

The piano is available for public play at Liberty Station daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. until a permanent home for the instrument is found.

A Sing for Hope Piano was created by students at the Farm of Hope school in Senya Beraku, Ghana. Artist Momoshi designed the artwork titled "Peace is the Answer", on July 1, 2023. <br/>
Sing For Hope
A Sing for Hope Piano was created by students at the Farm of Hope school in Senya Beraku, Ghana. Artist Momoshi designed the artwork titled "Peace is the Answer", on July 1, 2023.

For Stumpo, there is a deeper message in his music, inspired by the legendary "Piano Man" Billy Joel.

“Come down here," Stumpo said. "You'll see little kids tinkering around on the piano, and who knows? Maybe that could inspire someone to take lessons and become the next Billy Joel.”

Last year Stumpo was named one of San Diego County’s Most Remarkable Teenagers for his commitment to community fundraising, and for his Billy Joel-like talent, too.

“It's just (Joel) and his piano, which is what I do. I don't have a backing track or any backing vocals. It's just me and my piano and music. He inspires me, I mean I really like his songs. I can't think of a Billy Joel song I don't like.”

Makena Stumpo, 14 (center hold surfboard) is a San Diego Junior Lifeguard. He trains for life-saving techniques with other students at the South Mission Beach Jetty, San Diego, Calif., August 8, 2023.
M.G. Perez
/
KPBS
Makena Stumpo, 14 (center hold surfboard) is a San Diego Junior Lifeguard. He trains for life-saving techniques with other students at the South Mission Beach Jetty, San Diego, Calif., August 8, 2023.

Stumpo also serves as a junior lifeguard along San Diego’s beaches. In the water, he uses a surfboard to make a difference. But you can also hear the passion of his musical talent, and how he uses it to help others.

“They could have been having thoughts of suicide or whatever, and they walked by a piano like this or they heard someone playing or they sat down and played it, and that prevented them from doing whatever they were going to do. Just connecting through the arts — I think is the most important part of this project," he said.

Camille Zamora, co-founder of Sing For Hope in New York City, spoke about the teens' piano project. She gave them a glowing review on the message they’ve created through their music.

"It expands our minds, it breaks down those barriers, and I think that connection with that spark of innovation is something that we all need life long as lifelong Learners. We have to be re-engaged with the spirit of creativity," Zamora said.

When asked if he is the "piano boy," Stumpo laughed and said, "That's not for me to say."

This piano artwork was created by Liam Koett an incoming ninth-grade student at Cathedral Catholic High School. The design features original doodles and Ocean Beach landmarks, San Diego, Calif., August 8, 2023.
M.G. Perez
/
KPBS
This piano artwork was created by Liam Koett an incoming ninth-grade student at Cathedral Catholic High School. The design features original doodles and Ocean Beach landmarks, San Diego, Calif., August 8, 2023.

As a former special education teacher, I look forward to connecting with you and reporting on stories that often go underreported in education. #WeAreBetterTogether
What stories are we missing when it comes to education in San Diego County?