FAIRBANKS — A University of Alaska Fairbanks freshman is off to a good start on his goal of bringing more piano playing to public places on campus.

Michael Martins is actually majoring in mathematics, but he has played piano for about three years. Last semester, he came to Fairbanks from Connecticut to attend college.

“I had never been to Alaska before and I didn’t know a single person in the whole state,” he said. “I started playing piano in public and that led to me meeting a lot of new and interesting people. I made great new friends.”

The only piano he found available to students on campus, he said, is the one at Bartlett Residence Hall. A second public piano, at Wood Center, is moved regularly from The Pub to the ballroom and then to other rooms. It is often unavailable for public use and only available at The Pub for those over the age of 21. Pianos in the music department are, of course, protected behind locked doors and generally reserved for music majors.

“So when I got here, I looked for a piano to play,” Martins said. 

“This was depriving me of how much I normally play,” he said. “We really need more pianos on campus.”

Martins found the piano at Bartlett Residence Hall and, this semester, he had access to it because he moved there. He decided to put the piano to good use — but first it was in desperate need of repair. It needed a piano bench estimated to cost $79.99, piano tuning estimated to cost $180 and repairs amounting to $40.

Repairs include fixing a wheel that is disconnected from the piano, replacing a bolt to keep the sustain pedal in place and replacing the bottom A note, which is missing its hammer and felt.

Martins created an online Go Fund Me account and also scheduled two weeks of hour-long piano-playing performances in the residence lobby, with tips going toward the piano fund.

Before launching the initiative, however, he presented his plan to the Bartlett Hall Council, which agreed to match raised funds, dollar for dollar, up to $300.

He and his fellow piano lovers met that goal in just the first two days, so now he has even grander plans.

“Right now, we’re just playing at Bartlett Hall for Bartlett Hall,” he said.

The first night included spontaneous performances by six or seven different student pianists, not just Martins.

“Everyone sang along, a crowd built up in the lobby, and everyone had a good time,” Martins said.

He wants to add to the piano fund, which will continue to pay for maintenance. Maybe they can even raise enough money to buy other pianos for other places on campus. Perhaps community members want to donate pianos, he said.

“I will definitely be starting a club here at school with the other students,” he said.

So far, he and other student musicians have provided the piano playing performances. But this week, he announced some special guests: Ramzi Gahlioum, a UAF teacher, will play guitar 9-10 p.m. on Wednesday at Bartlett Hall. At 9-10 p.m. Friday, UAF graduate student pianist Evita Maniatopoulou will perform a Chopin piece.

At 9-10 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday,  performers will include students — “from ones like me who have been playing for almost three years, to others who have played for 15 years,” he said. 

On Thursday, the performance time changes to 9:45-10:45 p.m.

The performances are free. Funds are raised through donations via tips.

Martins listed the importance of pianos in public places.

“Having a piano means attracting new people who want to try the instrument.

“Having a piano means giving pianists a place to practice.

“Having a pianos means making memories as your friend plays Piano Man while everyone sings along.

“Having a piano means making new friends.

“Having a piano is another reason to live in Bartlett.

“A piano is vital to Bartlett.

“We can restore this piano to its former glory,” he said.

Anyone who wants to participate in the program, donate money or even donate a piano can contact MWMartins@Alaska.edu or call 347-668-4230. 

To watch the piano performances live, go to twitch.tv/michaelwmartins!

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.