This Homeless Man’s Beautiful Piano Skills Made Him A Star

Ryan Arcand has been homeless for 30 years. When Roslyn Polard of Edmonton, Canada came upon him playing an outdoor piano in town, she knew she was witnessing something special and pulled out her phone to record the moment. Polard told her that he’d written the piece and that nobody taught him to play music. In the days since the video was posted last month, it’s attracted attention from millions of viewers. However, little was known about Arcand or his story. When CBC News crews set out to find him, it took them three days to track him down.

The news team asked homeless shelters and soup kitchens about Arcand and came up with few answers, but the team ultimately found him on the steps of a church in the area. He had no idea that he’d become an internet sensation. Arcand and his brother were taken from his parents by social workers when he was just a toddler, and he first sat down at a piano in a foster home at eight years old. He told the CBC, “It was as though we were meant for each other. You’re looking at the piano and you’re falling in love with it … I was in tears with this piano.”

It’s not clear exactly how Arcand ended up on the street, but his life has been plagued by addiction for many years. He has relatives who worry about him, but they seem to be out of ideas to help him. He’s no longer allowed to play at the piano where Polard recorded him because he was spotted with an open can of beer and has also been banned from several other public pianos, which leaves him with fewer options for the outlet he so loves. His encounter with Polard was at a piano that’s free for anyone to play out in the open (much like this one), so if anything, it’s clear that making music a free and public pursuit brings people together in very poignant ways. Arcand told the reporters that when he plays, “It’s like you’re playing, but you forget yourself. You know, it’s like truth, life. I love people. Sometimes I don’t even know if people love me, but it doesn’t matter. I love people.”

The tragic part of this story is that while internet fame is nice, it stands to do little to improve Arcand’s life. It’s also worth mentioning that thousands of other homeless people in Edmonton and all over the world suffer in silence with stories similar to his. Most of the homeless remain anonymous and forgotten, without a concerned online community wondering how they’re getting on. Maybe talents like Arcand will inspire people to push for a reform in how society treats the homeless and to consider whether a deeper form of assistance beyond just shelter for the night could become more of a mandated routine. I’m no expert, but it seems that public assistance often has to focus on the essentials of food and shelter (which is often limited) with very little resources leftover to focus on the more soul-driven issues that keep people without homes in the first place. There is a heavily emotional side to the uphill battle people face when trying to find a way off the streets, and unfortunately, that often goes neglected, which can keep people indefinitely homeless. Arcand’s fame may not solve his problems, but maybe it can spark a greater conversation to help others like him. [CNN, CBC]