The pianos are part of a project called “Play me, I’m yours,” that encourages people to play a song or even a few bars whenever they feel like it. That’s exactly what happened late last month, when the frail-looking homeless man sat down at a colorful piano in the city’s downtown.
Gould proceeded to wow the crowd with a rendition of the Styx song “Come Sail Away,” getting some amazed looks and earning a few dollars from impressed passersby.
A Facebook user named Aroar Natasha captured video of the homeless man’s performance, and it quickly went viral. In just a few days, it was viewed more than 2 million times and shared close to 17,000 times. It was also uploaded to YouTube, where it garnered even more attention.
Donald Gould is apparently quite well known among people who frequent Main Street in Sarasota. Gould, who is known to locals as Boone, gives daily performances of the five songs he learned when he was growing up. The set also includes Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and Bach’s “Toccata.”
The homeless man said he never thought he’d become a viral star.
“I was thinking I could just put my hat on the piano and make a couple dollars and get tips,” Gould told My Suncoast. “I didn’t expect it to jump out to this.”
The 51-year-old homeless man actually has a long history in music. He learned clarinet as a child, and later played it during his time in the United States Marine Corps. He even studied music education at Michigan’s Spring Arbor University, but had to leave just three semesters short of getting his degree when money became too tight.
“I took music theory and ear training, and I had to learn how to play every instrument from the piccolo down to the tuba,” Gould says. “I can write parts like a handbook.”
Gould said his life took a drastic turn in 1998, when his wife died and he started down a path of substance abuse that led to his 3-year-old son being taken away.
Donald Gould has now been playing music regularly on Main Street, and even gets to live out his dream. The homeless man said occasionally a young child will sit down next to him, and he gets the chance to help them out, just like a real music teacher.
“I play the ‘Heart and Soul’ bass, I say ‘just hit the white keys, you can’t screw up’… It doesn’t matter how they play, if they play crappy or good, I always clap for them,” he said. “I’m a nurturer, I’m a teacher.”
The viral video could soon be leading to work for Donald Gould as well. One community member who saw the homeless man’s performance reached out to a local bar, which is giving him a tryout for a house gig.
[Image via YouTube]