Like many of America’s most prestigious universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has its share of hallowed traditions, but few of them beat hurling an upright piano off a dormitory roof, as a group of MIT students did for the 40th time earlier this week.
The piano plunged several stories, smashing into another — this one a baby grand — celebrating the final day when students can drop classes from their schedules. The tradition began in 1972, when students living in the Baker House dorm had a broken piano on their hands and, as any rational group of intelligent undergraduates would, decided to push it off the building’s roof. Back then, it was a pretty casual event; today, it’s much more “formalized and announced and planned with everyone,” Michael Plasmeier, president of the dorm’s student government, told the Associated Press.
The tradition has become such a smash hit that after the dust settles, onlookers scramble to grab splintered wood, keys, hammers, strings and any other errant debris strewn across the dorm’s lawn. Astronaut Catherine Coleman, an MIT alumna, even took one piano’s key to the International Space Station during her six-month stay. This year, souvenirs were especially abundant, given the second piano placed on the ground.
Though students primarily run the show, they consult with MIT’s security and emergency management office, whose staff give safety training to the lucky students who get to push the piano. Nobody has yet been injured during a piano drop, although the instruments themselves take quite a beating. Those chosen for the drop are generally already broken, often donated by generous folks who, understandably, have no idea what else to do with a broken piano sitting in their home.
In fact, the campus tradition has turned into something of a drop-off service for unwanted pianos. Eager owners contact the students to have their irreparable and cumbersome instruments taken off their hands. An entertaining college tradition and a useful community service? Bravo, MIT, for the perfect duet.