If you were to go to Union Station in Los Angeles, CA, it would be easy to mistake the man in dirty overalls playing the public piano as a beggar. He is homeless and does accept money from people who find his playing beautiful.
But this unassuming man has an altogether different purpose.
This young, homeless man is using music not to raise money, but to carve out a place for himself in a world that otherwise ignores and looks down on him.
Matthew Shaver has had a tough life—but the one thing that keeps him centered is a love of music.
Every morning, 30-year-old Matthew Shaver makes the trip to Union Station in Los Angeles for one reason: to play on the public piano for the allotted 20 minutes. He has made this trip ever since they installed the piano in the station, and it is has become one of the only places where Matthew can find happiness.
“It’s the only thing I got left,” Shaver said according to the Los Angeles Times.
Shaver began playing the piano when he was four years old, and his two older sisters introduced the instrument to him—but his love did not stop there. Soon afterwards, he was working with private tutors to learn classical pieces. Then Shaver soon found out that his true love was jazz and the blues.
“I felt accepted, I felt wanted, I felt that I was useful.”
But his life had never been easy. Shaver grew up in foster care, spent time in the marines, and was injured in Afghanistan. He’s also spent time in jail and developed a pattern of drug abuse. It’s unclear when he began living on the streets, but he has been homeless for quite some time.
The piano has, according to Shaver, been the “most positive influence in his life.” And it was through the piano that he came to understand his true purpose.
“I felt accepted, I felt wanted, I felt that I was useful, that I could do something that could last,” Shaver said according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Depression has always been a thing,” Shaver said according to the Los Angeles Times.
Despite the hardships he has undergone, however, music has always been the one thing that could give him hope.
Through it all, though, his deep love of and connection to music has remained the one constant in his life; it gave him hope, a sense of purpose, and most importantly self-respect.
Despite his great love of music, Shaver did not get the opportunity to play very often. That is, until Union Station installed a public piano for anyone to use.
“It’s been a blessing, a huge blessing,” Shaver said according to the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t know what I would have done without this piano.”
And while he does accept money to play, the piano is so much more than that.
“It’s a meditation,” Shaver said according to the Los Angeles Times. “Like, you pray about something and then you meditate on it. The piano is my meditation.”
“People aren’t going to look at him just for his appearance. They will look at him for his talents and his humanity.”
Shaver has become a fixture at Union Station. Administrator Ken Pratt even knows him by name.
“[People aren’t] going to look at him just for his appearance,” Pratt said according to the Los Angeles Times. “They will look at him for his talents and his humanity. And his problems too. So maybe they will give him a little bit of slack.”
Pratt has offered Shaver access to the station’s homeless services on several occasions, but Shaver always declines. For him, the piano itself and his ability to play it is all he needs and wants.
“I’ve been called disgusting by guys in suits,” Matthew Shaver said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
But when he’s at the piano, he gets the respect he so dearly wants.