If his guitar hadn’t been stolen, Kemond Collins might never have touched the piano.

When he lost his guitar last fall, he immediately felt a void, and it was deep. He remembered walking by a piano in the basement of his residence hall and headed down there, finding what he thought he’d lost.

“Music feeds my soul,” he said. “I used to walk by that piano every day and I just never thought to ever go inside and play it until I didn’t have anything else. That was the best decision I ever made, opening those doors and learning how to play.”

That was just six months ago and since then, he has taught himself to play by propping his phone on the music stand and watching YouTube tutorials. He also plays by ear at the pianos he discovered in Cook Hall, but his favorite is the one he found at the Bone Student Center on one of his frequent Burger King runs. Tucked into a corner of the West Lounge, the piano is near an exit where the traffic is steady and the drafts are cold, but none of that interrupts his concentration.

The Bone Student Center piano has attracted several students, said Barb Dallinger, associate director in Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality, who occasionally wanders out of her office to listen. She is planning on leaving some music books for students who may have played at home but didn’t bring their music to campus.

“I love listening to them play,” she said. “I actually love more the feeling hearing them conveys. The student interaction, their activities, their ‘noise’ are what bring this building to life for me. Without them, the Bone is just a brick building.”

Kemond tries to be at the piano by 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, practicing about 20 hours a week, sometimes into the night. The undeclared sophomore has found his major. He hopes to audition for the School of Music, majoring in music teacher education/music performance. He doesn’t have a preferred genre, moving easily between R&B, pop, soul, and Indie rock.

“It’s really just whatever my ear is feeling at the moment,” he said. “I hear people saying I’ve made their day simply by just playing and that alone is what motivates me, the fact that I’m able to make a person’s day by just doing what I love.”

Kate Arthur can be reached at kaarthu@IllinoisState.edu.