Anyone who has seen the 1988 film Big, starring Tom Hanks, will remember an iconic scene where Hank’s character plays “Chopsticks” on a giant piano using his feet. One person this scene particularly struck a chord with was Manuel Benyacar, a luthier (instrument maker) living in Italy but originally from Buenos Aires. In 2011, he built his first giant piano by hand. He set up a group of players, known as Il Grande Piano (AKA Italian Big Piano), to perform on it.
In 2016, Benyacar created a design that was easy to transport and assemble. This meant that the group were able to tour different venues, displaying the skills that they had honed over the intervening years. The group’s first performance took place in the city of Cremona for an urban regeneration project. In a video watched over 7.3 million times on YouTube, the group show their mesmerising dance and music skills in their version of “Despacito” by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi.
The piano used by Italian Big Piano is the biggest in Europe. The sound is created by a complex system of sensors that respond to the pressure of the players’ feet, and relies on the players landing on the keys in perfect synchronicity. It has six octaves, giving some flexibility on the songs that can be played. However, with only using four or six feet, as opposed to ten fingers, the group do have to be selective about the songs that they choose to play.
The group have covered a variety of genres in their performances. From the pop world, they have performed songs by artists, including Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” and Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”. They have a repertoire of festive songs for Christmas performances, and they play TV themes such as “The Pink Panther”. They have also performed classical songs, such as a memorable version of Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550”; a video of this has been watched 38 million times on YouTube.
Benyacar has promised to keep developing the technology for his big piano and trying to bring in other big instruments. The group have previously done shows playing on a giant violin and a transverse flute. This groundbreaking form of entertainment could become more widespread when technology makes it more accessible, bringing an exciting fusion of dance and music.
Italian Big Piano will continue to bring joy and astonishment to all who see their incredible talent. What was once the imagination of a 1980s filmmaker has now become a revolutionary form of musical performance.