A Montreal pianist took to the streets to raise awareness of what's happening in Ukraine

A car screeched to a halt, a chorus of honks filled the air and an ambulance siren wailed on Montreal’s Sherbrooke Street.

But ignoring the noise and traffic, pedestrians stopped to lend an ear as a musician sitting at a grand piano rolled out from a downtown building began to play the first notes of the Ukrainian national anthem. This was what Serhiy Salov calls one of his field recitals, an hour-long concert to honour his homeland, and his attempt at raising money to help the soldiers fighting Russia’s invasion.

“For now, I feel very much as though I am on stage,” he said after a performance last week. “But with traffic.”

For two weeks, an hour a day, spectators admired Salov’s renditions of the anthem, of Mozart and Chopin, but few on the curb recognized him. Though, perhaps they should have.

Salov was born and trained as a pianist in Donetsk, Ukraine. He moved to Montreal after winning an international competition held in the city 18 years ago. And, he plays a part in the newly-released film Coda, starring Patrick Stewart and Katie Holmes. The movie tells the tale of a famous pianist (Stewart) struggling with stage fright late in his career. Salov has a cameo in the film and also did the soundtrack. But most memorable for him, he taught Stewart, who previously played Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the Star Trek franchise, how to move like a pianist. He says coaching the captain of the Enterprise to look as though he was playing Chopin and Mozart is the biggest and most unconventional experience of his life.

But since the February assault on Ukraine, much of his thoughts have turned to the people of his home country.

“I would like to be helping by contracting arms, or working diplomatic circles,’ he says. “But this is beyond my grasp.”

At first he turned his rage against the Russian consulate in Montreal, protesting the invasion, but soon found he wanted to go beyond shouting slogans. After he spotted a display of the colours of the Ukrainian flag on the Maison Alcan, a heritage building that includes venues for conferences and meetings, he decided to ask if he could use the front steps for a series of open-air recitals.

And so from May 30 to June 10, he pushed a grand piano out on the pavement, unfurled a Ukrainian flag, and played for an hour against the backdrop of traffic.

On the sidewalk, he hung tourniquets on a lectern, with a note on how to contribute to a fundraiser. Salov says the soldiers are in dire need of a host of supplies, but said he settled on a fund to provide tourniquets, devices to apply pressure to a limb to stop the flow of blood. He says they are crucial to try to save lives on the battlefield.

But most of all, what he hoped is that passersby would reflect on the impact of the invasion. He closed each recital with John Lennon’s ‘Imagine,’ and the anthem he says of hope and harmony.

“The message of this music is absolutely to stay human and to change the world for the better.”