NEWS

Ryan Arcand, Edmonton's piano man, now has his own keyboard

03/06/2015 07:07 EST | Updated 05/06/2015 05:59 EDT
On Friday afternoon, Ryan Arcand was doing what he usually does these days.

Playing piano.

He was in the lobby of Ambrose Place, a supportive-housing complex in Edmonton’s inner city, where he recently got his own apartment after years of living on the streets.

Around one o’clock, the front doors opened and two men came in, lugging long, heavy cardboard boxes.

They set them down and went back for more.

Curious, Arcand eyed the boxes.

“What the heck?” he said.

He got up and walked over to read the labels.

“It’s yours Ryan,” said Carola Cunningham, executive director of Niginan Housing Ventures, the non-profit group that runs Ambrose Place..

“It is?” He grinned. “Can I open it?”

Inside those boxes was a new Yamaha digital piano, a keyboard stand, some headphones.

Arcand seemed stunned. He looked at the camera. “Mom, if you’re listening, watching.” He turned and pointed at the boxes. “Look, mom. It’s me!”

Millions watched his video

Arcand became known as Edmonton’s piano man after a chance encounter with Roslyn Polard, who recorded a video of him playing a public piano in Edmonton’s Sir. Winston Churchill Square.

She posted the video on YouTube on Oct. 23. Within a week, about two million people had watched it.

But Arcand’s story remained, for the most part, a mystery. Known only as ‘Ryan,’ outreach workers at homeless shelters said they knew him but didn’t know much about him.

A CBC News crew spent three days tracking him down.

Turns out he was born on the nearby Alexander Reserve, and grew up in foster homes. He was eight when he played his first piano, in the basement of the foster home he was living in.

As an adult, he spent years on the streets, drinking, searching for food and places to sleep.

After his video went online, after so many people heard his music and saw his talent, his luck seemed to change.

About a month ago, he moved into Ambrose Place. Finally he had a roof over his head, his own room and his own bed. There was even a piano in the lobby.

But now, he has something even better.

On Friday, the two men wheeled the boxes down the hall to Arcand’s room. He unlocked the door and let them in, and they started setting up the new piano.

While they worked, the piano man stood nervously by the door. When the men sliced the tape and opened the box lids, Arcand turned around.

“I don’t want to look,” he said. “I want to be surprised.”

The gift came from the woman who shot the original video. She used it to help raise money to buy the new piano.

Unable to watch the assembly, Arcand went out in the hall for a few minutes.

“They’re setting up my new piano,” he told his neighbour, a woman living across the hall. “Now I can play in private. And write music. That’s what I want. I want to write music.”

“I always thought about the mystery piano man,” the neighbour said. “I didn’t know who you were, then. I thought, ‘Oh, I would love to meet that mystery piano man.”

“And here I am,” he said.

Finally, the two men finished and put the piano against the wall.

“You want me to play?” Arcand asked.

Then he leaned over and studied all the fancy buttons, trying to pick the sound he wanted. Then he sat down and started to play.

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