Kelly Marmo and Danielle Jacinto were walking around Babylon’s Argyle Lake Friday morning when they spotted Dotan Negrin at the jogging path’s fork near Montauk Highway serenading park goers from his upright piano, playing the “Super Mario Brothers” theme.
Tunes that followed included “Für Elise,” Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and other classics.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Marmo, 25, of Babylon. “That’s pretty awesome.”
Negrin, 25, of Dix Hills, stopped playing to talk with the two strangers for about 20 minutes, learning that they hope to open a Christian school together on Long Island one day. They had been discouraged by other people around them who said it would never work.
But then Negrin shared his own recent experience, a five-month, 15,000-mile journey in pursuit of a dream to see America and interact with people on a “real” level.
In his “Piano Across America” tour, he and his Jack Russel Chihuahua, Brando, traveled from New York to San Francisco and back in a big yellow box truck, stopping to tickle the ivories for pedestrians on city streets and in local parks.
“I hope to really find ways to make people think about their lives,” he said. “I love to get the people who stand before me to come together and to meet each other through music.”
Negrin went to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he studied acting and music.
After graduating in 2008, he struggled to find steady work, so he decided to give his dream a chance and took a test run in July 2010 in Manhattan, setting up over a few weeks in Union Square, Washington Square Park and City Hall Park. He did it again in March, this time staying in Union Square.
Encouraged by the experiences, and using money he had saved over three years painting houses and selling shoes on eBay, he purchased the truck, loaded up his piano and hit the road.
He stopped in streets and parks from Boulder, Colo., to Austin, Texas, to New Orleans and Washington -- making the trip from Colorado back to New York solely on money dropped in his donation bucket.
He met local business owners, a psychology professor, “nomads” and other musicians, chronicling it all on his blog, pianoacrossamerica.com, in pictures and in 13 terabytes of video.
Negrin spent his birthday in Madison, Wisc., playing his upright on the lawn at a barn where there was already a gathering.
In New York City he encountered Natalia Chinchilla, a film student working on a silent film. She featured Negrin in her project.
Brando even made some friends. That is, except for one man’s pit bull who tried to eat him.
Negrin also met Foster, a homeless man in New Orleans, who introduced him to a mechanic who loaded the box truck up with a winch so Negrin could load his piano in the truck more easily.
“It was interesting because Foster was drinking a pint of Vodka when I met him,” he said. “At first I didn’t like him and then I really started to enjoy having him. I kept talking to him and he gave me the number of the motor man in Austin. All in all that experience taught me you never who you are going to meet, and no matter what they look like, if they’re homeless or whatever, they can still teach you something.”
Friday marked Negrin’s first time taking his act to Long Island. And for Jacinto it was inspirational. She said after hearing Negrin’s story, she won’t give up on her school so easily.
“This made my whole week,” Jacinto said.