Self titled “The Crazy Piano Guy” on his personal website, Collin Huggins claims this moniker was chosen because it was easy for people to remember – he insists it is not a clinical diagnosis of his mental condition. However he is undoubtedly crazy about sharing his passion for music with the general public of New York City.
Foregoing a career as a musical artist in the ballet, Huggins first ventured playing the piano outside in 2007. Presently, he performs on a Yamaha baby grand piano in Washington Square Park, usually from 9am — 9pm Saturdays and Sundays, contingent on the weather.
I first spotted Huggins in April, just a few months after having moved to NYC, while I was cutting through the park on my way to brunch in SoHo. The rich, full notes of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” vibrated from Huggins’ soundboard and forced me to pause and listen for a few minutes. Unfortunately, I was already running late and had to jet off after a single composition. I vowed to return to the park the following weekend to see if I could spot him again.
Since then, I have sat and listened to Huggins play numerous times. At each encounter he has exhibited an unwavering focus, consistent precision of play, and steadfast composure amidst the surrounding chaos of Washington Square. The park serves as an unexpected juxtaposition of his classical refrains against the buzzing of skateboarders, barking dogs, buskers, occupy protestors, and squealing children in this outdoor theater.
This past Sunday I arrived at the park around 11am. Huggins was playing on the east side of the park at the University and Washington Place entrance. His opening piece was Chopin’s “Nocturne in E Flat Major”. He followed this with a piece by Rachmaninoff, trailed by Bach’s “English Suite in A Minor”, and Chopin’s “Prelude in D Flat”. My personal favorite was his rendition of Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro”, which he jokingly translated from its original Italian as, “Please put money in the buckets”.
The beauty of Huggins’ playing is that it captures the attention of all ages. Older couples resting on the park benches read excerpts of the Sunday paper to each other all the while listening to Huggins’ mastery. A young couple relished in the brief moment of serenity as their three year old became mesmerized by Huggins’ hands dancing across the keyboards. Even a young group of teenage boys, who were cutting through the park with their basketballs in hand, paused for a moment to listen.
“The Crazy Piano Guy” offers a quintessential “New York minute” kind of experience, and one that has definitely left an indelible impression on me.
All photos ©Jackie Spear.