Everybody has a story. Sometimes it takes a viral video to remember that.
A Facebook video, uploaded by Aurore Henry, went viral this last week. Within two days the video was viewed over 2.5 million times!! So what was the video? It was fifty-one year old Donald Gould playing a piano* rendition of Styx “Come Sail Away”. The reason that the video become an overnight sensation is because Donald is a homeless man.
Really, it shouldn’t be shocking that people in the homeless community can have skills and talents but so often it’s forgotten that homelessness isn’t a permanent condition. People who find themselves without homes have a history…they come from somewhere and weren’t always homeless!
Aurore was eating at a restaurant in Sarasota, Florida. She went outside with her friends to talk and saw Donald sitting at the piano playing beautifully! Cell phone in hand, she captured the whole thing. Henry told ABC News:
“We went outside to chat and we saw him playing and it was so phenomenal that I got my phone out to start recording it. Obviously I had no idea this would become such a thing. I put it on Facebook and I saw a few people share it right away.”
Despite the locals reporting that Gould is a nuisance to the community, WWSB tracked him down to learn more.
Who is Donald Gould?
As it turns out, Gould has a history of music. He played the clarinet as a young child and eventually ended up playing it in the U.S. Marine Corps. When he finished up he realized he didn’t want his musical journey to end so he went to Spring Arbor University in Michigan to try and become a music teacher. Donald told WWSB:
“I took music theory and ear training, and I had to learn how to play every instrument from the piccolo down to the tuba. I can write parts like a handbook.”
Unfortunately circumstance wasn’t in his favour. He struggled financially until he had to quit school just three credits short of finishing his program. Once he left school he starting working any odd jobs he could get. He married, had a child and life was moving forward. Until one day, in 1998, his wife died suddenly. He told WWSB:
“They sat me down, and they told me what had happened, that my wife had passed away, and I just lost it man.”
That’s where his real struggles began. Losing his wife was extremely hard on him and he regrettably took to self medicating with alcohol. Substance abuse became such a problem for him that Social Services had to step in and take away his son (3 years old at the time). After a while, he found himself in Florida where he currently busks and tries to make money where he can.
The day after Aurore shot the video, she met back up with Gould again.
“We talked a little bit about where he got his music background, what his life has been like. It was really nice. The look on his face when we told him about the video, someone had already told him they had seen it online, and he just looked stricken. He’s very modest. He was like, ‘Oh you know, that’s really nice. I don’t really know what to think about that.’”
It’s not easy for people to pull themselves out of conditions like Gould’s, but the video has drawn attention to his skill set. Local restaurant, Surf Shack, had their eyes open and liked what they saw. They are in the process of trying to reach out to Donald so they can ask him to interview for a job playing at their piano bar!
Steve Bishop is the owner of Surf Shack and he confirmed:
“Yeah it is true. We’re looking to arrange it. We call it a New York-style piano bar. It’s got a balcony that seats about 50 and a nightclub inside. We do live piano music just about every night. We’ve been doing auditions for local people and we heard about this gentleman and we’re trying to arrange it. We’re in the early phases here but we are trying to do our homework to touch base with him. Hopefully we’re able to work this out and do some good for him.”
The video of Donald Gould is a good reminder that everybody has shoes and until you walk in them, it’s not fair to pass judgement. Henry posted the video in the hopes that it could cast the Sarasota homeless community in a bit more of a positive light. She said:
“I hope this humanizes the homeless a little more. I think it’s important to recognize that what the people on the streets really need is a purpose and a sense of belonging. And that’s what Donald is getting.”
It looks like it’s doing more than casting a positive light. It looks like sharing this video could really help Donald turn his life around!
*Sarasota Keys Piano Project places beautiful, donated pianos around the city and encourages people to take the time to stop for a moment and play them!
Sly Dylan “Homeless Man Plays Piano Beautifully (Sarasota, FL) (Original)” Youtube. 30 June 2015. Web. 4 July 2015.