Hudson Colletti ’27 Brings Love of Pianos to Pomona

Hudson Colletti sits at a customized piano inside Pittsburgh airport

While visiting Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the summer before his first year of high school, Hudson Colletti ’27 sat down at a piano one day and began tickling the ivories.

In town with family for the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Pennsylvania teen wasn’t on stage playing for a capacity crowd inside a palatial concert hall or cozy auditorium.

He was on a street corner.

Within minutes, the sounds echoing through the neighborhood drew passersby, many quick to record the young pianist’s impromptu performance.

“I loved that,” the 19-year-old recalls. “I thought [playing in public] was a really cool way for me to share something I love. I thought, ‘Why not bring that opportunity back home?’”

Colletti—a Pomona first-year student who plans to study economics and computer science—founded Free the Music at 14, not long after returning from the Great White North.

In the years since, he has collected unwanted pianos from willing donors and provided them to local artists as canvases. These customized pianos have found second homes in restaurants and apartment buildings, as well as on various street corners, around Colletti’s hometown of Sewickley, Pennsylvania—population 3,900.

“A lot of people want to learn how to play piano,” he says, “or know how to play but don’t have access to a piano because of how big they are, how much space they take up or how hard they are to move into a house.”

Colletti was classically trained at a young age and fell hard for pursuing virtuosity.

By placing pianos in public, Free the Music is giving others a chance to fall in love too.

“One of the pianos we placed in town,” he says, “was originally given with nothing inside of the bench, and after four or five months over summer, the bench was filled with books and sheet music from people learning how to play and having lessons there.”

Pennsylvania artist Cue Perry worked on a donated piano for the better part of a month last year before it and two others were placed at Pittsburgh International Airport in December.

Having never worked on such a canvas previously, the 38-year-old artist says the finished product—a piano with both warm and cool colors to portray dawn and dusk—is a way to brighten travelers’ days.

“People travel all the time,” Perry adds. “Personally, eating and drinking at an airport is boring, so I made a piece that’s bright and fun. I want it to start conversations. I want it to make kids and families see the airport as less humdrum, less hustle and bustle.”

“I want to give them a stop-and-smell-the-flowers kind of moment,” Perry says.

At Pomona, Colletti is never too far from a piano, and can often be found in a late night, ad hoc session in the dorm lounges. While classical music will always have a place in his heart, the Pennsylvanian plays mostly modern music now—the 2022 hit “golden hour” by JVKE is a personal favorite.

As successful as Free the Music’s initiative has been in his home state, the teen sees no reason why he can’t continue his work here.

“Music brings people together and brightens our mood,” says Colletti, who also plays a mean guitar and trombone. “It’s a great reminder after finishing a song when people gather around because they have a love of music.”