McDonald's Pianist: I'm Loving It

Friday, December 23, 2011 - 05:08 PM

VIDEO: A Pianist With His Eye on the Fries

It was as relaxed an atmosphere as you’re likely to find at a classical music performance. As Andrew Shapiro squeezed onto the small stage and sat down at the old Howard grand piano, a group of teenagers chatted over breakfast sandwiches and sodas. A worker plunged hash browns into a fryer. Two police officers milled about drinking hot coffees.

The concert hall in question is not some new annex to Lincoln Center but the McDonald’s at 160 Broadway, near Liberty Street, where Shapiro has been performing on Sunday afternoons since 2004. The Oberlin Conservatory-trained pianist and composer first came to the restaurant after reading a New York magazine article about the history of the city’s McDonald’s. He contacted the manager, Paul Goodman, and talked his way into a trial shift.

“I didn’t think I’d be doing this for seven-and-a-half years," said Shapiro. "But I like it and it’s fun."

Shapiro’s musical style blends echoes of Philip Glass, a former mentor, as well as 1980’s pop and ambient music. Hints of Chopin-esque harmonies turn up, usually in between shouts of “May I help the next customer please?”

That this is not a typical McDonald’s can be seen in numerous details throughout the restaurant. The upstairs dining area is known as the Orchid Room and fresh cut flowers adorn tables. Customers include a cosmopolitan mix of tourists visiting the World Trade Center site and office workers. Shapiro’s piano is in a small loft area that overlooks the entrance and must be accessed through a narrow gangplank behind the interior walls. During a recent visit, some in the restaurant appeared to take notice of the performance happening above, others ate and chatted with friends.

Raised in Larchmont, NY, Shapiro, 36, lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He has released a handful of albums of solo piano music, his most latest being the 2009 “Numbers, Colors and People,” produced by longtime Glass musical director Michael Riesman. Because of the attention he's received for his McDonald’s gig, he has accepted invitations to perform at other piano-equipped McDonald’s in Poland and the UK. Shapiro said that he hopes to perform a concert tour of McDonald’s with pianos in the year ahead (there are several, as it happens, mostly in Europe).

The pianist said he is unconcerned with people who don't think this is an appropriate venue for a classically-trained pianist. Does he ever experience Big Mac Attacks during his four-hour shifts? “I used to drink a lot of the milkshakes,” he said. “Now I mostly have the grilled chicken sandwich – without mayonnaise. And I’ll come down and make a black coffee before my shift starts.”

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Comments [12]

Jennifer F. from Tampa, FL

Thank you to the station for this wonderful feature!
I love being exposed to new artists. Shapiro has really beautiful music I've now listened to all his stuff I can get my hands on.
I really hope to get to NYC to check him out first hand soon!

Apr. 02 2012 10:52 PM
Stephanie Zito from Catskills NY

God Bless Andrew Shapiro. He will always be a great legend contributing to music. He is a great performer/improviser and one of the very finest composers.

Jan. 13 2012 07:45 PM
DavId Irving from Sidney, New York

Anyone who knows Andrew Shapiro's music knows that here is a great performer/improviser and one of the very finest composers in that Philip Glass generated genre that once upon a time was referred to as minimalism. It's a real treat to hear Andrew play and and to hear it at McDonald's -- well it's unexpected, that' for certain, but a great way to communicate a little new music to a public that often will be hearing it for the first time. And it raises the stature of McDonald's to a little more than just a fast food joint of unhealthy fatty foods. And that's good news because it means if McDonald's is going to keep pace, they going to have to raise their food standards. That means less fat and more vegetables and fruits, the really good stuff that make us healthy and, if not wealthy, at least wise enough to eat the foods that beat back disease. Good work Andrew! It was a pleasure to go down there and hear you, and just keep up the good work. It brings a little culture to our day, and maybe just helps a little with our health to.

Jan. 13 2012 05:43 PM
Jeremy Lizt from San Francisco, CA

Great article and video. I have been to this McDonald's and seen Andrew Shapiro perform there. It's totally justifies the trip downtown, and worth so much more than the price of a milkshake. I suspect it's Shapiro's music that helps me digest the food here better than at any other McD's.

Jan. 02 2012 01:26 PM
Edward F Mitchell

I wandered into McDonald's with some friends a while back and there was a grand piano there and there was Andrew Shapiro playing the grand piano and this Andrew Shapiro fellow was playing his own compositions and what I thought was going to be a very unmemorable Big Mac and fries became a very, very memorable musical experience. I have no recollection at all of what I ate, but I certainly remember the beautiful music in the most surprising of all venues. Amazing.

Dec. 30 2011 06:42 AM
Joselyn from New York

This is pretty awesome. Something out of the ordinary at a fast food restaurant. Maybe I'll go check you out one day. =)

Dec. 29 2011 11:38 AM
Steven Farkas from New York

I've been to this McD's and heard Shaprio play and it was really incredible. To be able to hear such a talented musician put on a truly high quality performance for free is just unbelievable. It's hard to imagine how this venue is not flooded with people every Sunday afternoon!

Dec. 28 2011 10:08 PM
Rich Fontaine from Los Angeles, CA

True art has no boundaries. And every real artist knows that. Mr. Shapiro, by virtue of the evocative and beautiful music he plays, is a true artist. No one who hears the music he plays on that youtube video can deny that.

Sure there might be people talking on cell phones and chatting among themselves. But if Mr. Shapiro--through his music--touches one person in the course of the day, if his music moves them or prompts them to go to a deeper or more contemplative place, then he has given them something they would not otherwise had experienced and that, in part, is what art is all about.

Hold the cheese. Hold the mayo. And thank you Mr. Shapiro. I look forward to coming down and seeing you play!

Dec. 28 2011 11:06 AM
Justin Harris from Los Angeles

I know there's a lot of hype about this guy (McDonald's, TED Conf., Glass producers, etc.) but on its own merits his piano music is super sweet. And "Mint Green" might just be about the most awesome piano piece ever. Nice that someone has the balls to write what he/she wants to instead of caking on a layer of intellectual junk just for the sake of doing so. (Am I showing just a bit of bitterness...welll, perhaps:)

Next time I'm in New York i'm going to check this McDonald's thing out!

Dec. 28 2011 11:01 AM
Stephen Lean from New York, NY

It's pretty awesome that people can enjoy fine art in a place where they might not expect it. I think it's one of the great, charming things about NY - you can go into McD's to grab a quick bite and wind up listening to a classically-trained pianist.

Dec. 28 2011 10:26 AM
jimbojamesiv from nyc

Ironic that WQXR sponsors a bit of fluff about McDonald's on the same day Bolivia announces they are free from the terror.

Dec. 27 2011 05:10 AM
Susanne Feigum from Portland, Oregon

Andrew, this is so creative, and open to the delicious possibilities, and fun. This makes me smile! Susanne

Dec. 24 2011 09:37 PM

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