UPDATE: Government workers keyed up; piano will not be movedWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
One Government Center may be rife with discord, from a dysfunctional county board of elections and an argumentative city council to a divisive mayor’s race, but at least 300 people who work there are united on one front: They want their piano man right where he is.
The Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS), which manages the state-owned building, recently placed a sign in the lobby notifying workers of its intentions to move a piano in the southeast corner of the lobby to a 13th floor cafeteria on Oct. 15.
The piano, a wild blend of painted instruments and faces, was a gift from the Art Tatum Jazz Heritage Society.
For two years, Don Diller, a city income tax auditor, has played the piano every chance he gets — during his morning break, his lunch time, his afternoon break and after work as he waits to catch his TARTA bus home. He specializes in such old-fashioned classics as “Laura,” “Ebb Tide” and “The Sound of Music.” Diller’s choice of music — elegant, easygoing, tasteful — echoes his appearance and the gentle way he carries himself.
“I played one day and when I went to play it the next day, it was locked,” he said. “I wondered why, because it was a gift to the public. It turned out some kids were pounding on the keys so they locked it. Some people have a key to the city; I have a key to the city’s piano.”
Diller caresses a silver key that would be comfortable in the hands of a secretive hero in a black-and-white movie. He said many people stop to listen while he plays.
“I play about 15 minutes as people either sit and relax or just smile as they walk by,” he said.
Several officials expressed gratitude for Diller’s music. Lucas County Chief of Policy and Legislation Peter Ujvagi said Diller’s piano playing, “Soothes the savage beasts around here.” A member of Mayor Mike Bell’s administration said when city council meetings bog down, it is calming to step outside council chambers to listen to Diller play.
They aren’t alone in their admiration for Diller’s impact. A petition in the building’s newsstand, asking to keep the piano in the lobby, has been signed by nearly 300 people. The petition was started by an employee of the Lucas County Board of Elections, who said she had been forbidden to give an interview on the topic.
One official said he heard DAS wants to move the piano because it “doesn’t fit the decor.” Anthony J. Matney, northern group facilities manager, office of properties and facilities for DAS, said he was not aware of any complaints or public concerns about the piano.
“My understanding is we are moving the piano to the cafeteria so more patrons can enjoy the music during their lunch time,” Matney said.
Diller said he does not want the piano moved to the 13th floor cafeteria for a number of reasons.
“There is a TV playing in the cafeteria, and I was taught by my mom and dad to not play the piano while a TV is playing,” he said. “The general public can use the cafeteria, but few people know that and playing up there would be playing for employees, who may not want the music while they are trying to enjoy their lunch time. If the TV is playing there, I won’t play.”
Diller said he learned about the piano’s potential relocation from a guard who saw the sign, and no one has asked him for input about the move. He said appreciates the petition and the kind attention he has received.
“It’s humbling and I am honored,” he said.
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said he was going to speak to DAS and ask for the piano to stay where it is.
“We are a major tenant in this building and that piano is going to stay where it is,” Gerken said. “It was given for public use and they will need to unchain us from it and bring in the national guard to disrupt [Diller's] contributions.”
One elected official had a more whimsical take on Diller’s role in building culture.
“With the stress and budget cuts and state of things, when I hear the piano playing, I think of the band on the Titanic,” the official said. “It’s a center of grace and calm on a sinking ship.”
UPDATE: Commissioner Gerken spoke with Pete Gunnel, DAS Facilities Supervisor, on Oct. 10. DAS has agreed that the piano will not be moved on Oct. 15. Gunnel said “he has gotten less reaction hitting a hornets nest with a bat.” He also stated that he was unaware of the strong relationship between the piano and the building’s tenants and workers and that he will work with the tenants to resolve this issue.