Mr. B’s Joy Box Express rolls into Hancock school

HANCOCK – In autumn 2014, Mark Braun spread his message of the importance of keeping arts and athletics in the country’s schools by towing an upright piano behind a specially-constructed bicycle through the states along the Mississippi River.

During a stop Wednesday at the auditorium at Hancock Middle School, Braun said the trip along the Mississippi River lasted 74 days, during which he stopped at schools and other locations. It started at the headwaters of the river in Minnesota and ended in New Orleans.

This is the sixth year for the Mr. B’s Joy Box Express tour, as he calls the endeavor, and he’s traveled more than 3,000 miles. It has one manager and four cyclists who take turns towing the 400-pound piano. He’s been to Louisiana, Montana, New Jersey and Oregon.

“We’ve hit every part of the country,” he said.

It took him awhile to actually get going with the tour, however, Braun said.

“I started thinking about it in my 20s, but I didn’t get it done until I was 52 years old,” he said.

Besides speaking to students, the tour is also a fundraiser for various non-profit organizations.

Because of funding reductions, many schools around the country have made cuts in programing, and often the arts, including music, and athletics are cut.

“The main motivation (for the tour) was to address arts and athletics for kids,” he said.

The tour combines the concepts of art and physical activity.

Reaction to his stops on the tour have been mixed, Braun said.

“There has been utter amazement,” he said.

Occasionally, reaction is much more subdued, however, Braun said.

Braun will be performing at the Orpheum Theater in Hancock at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Doors open at 8 p.m.

Stephen Smith, Hancock Central High School social studies and English teacher, said he first encountered Braun in 1980 in Ann Arbor and he was amazed with Braun’s piano-playing.

Smith said he asked Braun to come talk to his students because he thinks the musician is a good motivator, and he thought that could provide inspiration for the class’s current writing section on passion.

“He has the inspiration of an artist,” Smith said. “He has the intuition of a teacher.”

Smith said Braun is a good example of someone who supports himself by doing what he loves, which Smith is trying to pass on to his students.

“Your passion is your paycheck,” he said.

Braun said he hopes his message has a positive effect on people, but he isn’t certain how to follow up on his stops. However, someone once told him he’s “changing the world,” which he thinks might be true.

“We did change some part of the world,” he said. “It’s a matter of degree and not sincerity or quality.”