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MIT students drop piano from roof in annual rite

By Rodrique Ngowi
The Associated Press / April 26, 2012
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Residents of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology dorm dropped an upright piano from their roof Thursday to celebrate the last day students can drop classes without having them appear on their college transcript.

About 200 onlookers watched as the piano crashed to the ground. It landed on a second piano, a baby grand, that was positioned on the ground for a better smash. People scrambled for souvenir pieces -- piano keys, hammers, strings and splinters.

The quirky tradition began in 1972 at the Baker House dormitory and has been observed sporadically until 2006, when it became an annual event, said Michael Plasmeier, who heads the dorm's student government that organized the ritual.

"It was sort of not the official event. It was just some students who had a broken dorm piano that they threw off the roof," he said. "Today, it's much more formalized and announced and planned with everyone."

The piano drop tradition is so popular that astronaut Catherine Coleman, an MIT alumna, took a piano key from the event to space in a nod to the tradition, Baker House housemaster Jeffrey Hoffman, professor of aerospace engineering and a former astronaut, said.

The upright piano was rolled from a makeshift ramp on the Baker House roof. No piano has ever fallen on anyone's head, organizers say.

"It's done very safely, and it's done with coordination with MIT security and emergency management office, and we set up a barrier well away from the piano, and then the people on the roof receive training from the security and management office," Plasmeier said.

The tradition is a simple affair.

"There is just a countdown and the piano falls off the roof," he said.

Broken pianos are used in the drop, generally donated by people eager to get someone to pick up the unwanted instrument for free. Other items may be placed below, such as the second piano this year.

"We have a certain reputation for getting rid of pianos for people so the pianos find us -- people emailing all the time and say `I have extra pianos. Can you please take them,'" Plasmeier said. "This year, we had someone who has five pianos and wanted us to take them, so then we contracted with the piano movers to pick them up from the people at no cost to them."

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Rodrique Ngowi can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/ngowi

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