Matt Stokes saw an opportunity and ran with it. Now McDonald’s McCafé at the Monon is a hot spot Sunday afternoons. Matt starts about 1 o’clock, spinning out showtunes and ragtime on the ebony Yamaha Disklavier Piano, but he moves off the bench when someone else wanting to play arrives. If Matt notices a shyness, he offers words of encouragement, and pretty soon Matt’s introducing a new player.
Matt Stokes, organizer of the weekly open piano, snaps a picture of Jennifer Needler, 17, one of many regular participants at McDonald’s McCafé at the Monon.

Since April 2003, when the piano was opened to the public, over 400 players, ages 3-87 at various levels of proficiency, have mounted the three steps and strutted their stuff. The ambiance is conducive to making and listening to music. The decor is muted, with music-themed wall hangings and shelf displays, and silk flower arrangements. A double-sided fireplace opens to the main space and an alcove. The former offers tables and booths, the latter is furnished with leather couches and chairs. Patrons munch, chat, read or just listen.

On a recent rainy Sunday, a young student, encouraged by his family, went through his beginner’s book. Earlier, a professional player held sway.

According to McDonald’s management, the Broad Ripple site is one of about six nationwide to have a McCafé. However, it’s speculated this is the only one with a program of community participation. “McDonald’s had no mission on how to utilize the piano,” Matt explains. “It’s promoting the idea of playing in public, in a safe, friendly environment. It’s a matter of offering players exposure,” he underscores, adding that one parent reported her kid practiced every day last week to do an even better presentation this week.

A player model with fine action, good tone and an appealing presence, the piano engenders confidence. Working with independent teachers and studios, Matt schedules recitals and fun times that include Bob Brunner and the Holidairs Jazz Quartet as well as The Classic Ragtime Society of Indianapolis Players. Occasionally, he slots a Saturday recital. But he emphasizes that no matter what, it’s always open piano time for walk-ins.

A Purdue major in environmental science, Matt runs an environmental consulting business along with playing in two bands and solo piano Fridays at the Red Key. “I’ve always been interested in the outdoors and I’ve always had a piano. Even at Purdue I’d play the piano whenever I could,” he says. “I’ve always loved dance music and dance. My repertoire grows. It’s a learning process of life.”

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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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