Many people have asked me how I came to play the toy piano. Contrary to what it might seem, I started playing classical piano at the age of five and found the toy piano when I was 21. I was always interested in exploring new sounds and unconventional piano techniques, but my journey with the toy piano was plunged forth by an unexpected happening in my life.
I gave my first toy piano performance in 2001 at the Chicago Humanities Festival and later in 2003, my first solo toy piano performance in Toronto. I became very curious about the toy piano, but still considered it one of my many side projects. It wasn’t until I was studying for my doctorate degree at Indiana University, I slowly became injured with tendinitis due to the stress of all of my teaching, performing and general anxiety about grad school. I was completely crushed that I had to stop playing piano for almost two years, but I found that window of time to be a much-needed break and re-assessment of my artistic pursuits.
It was natural for me to play the toy piano at that time–it was my only connection to making music during my recovery and it gave me the great feeling of freedom. I fell in love with the instrument not only for its sound and quirky characteristics, but also for everything that it symbolized for me at this turning point. Though many people see it as an instrument with many limitations, I feel a lack of inhibition when playing it.
Until then, I knew that there were many other artistic and musical curiosities/interests of mine that were not being fulfilled by playing classical piano. My general interest in playing contemporary music came from a desire to see a new model between the performer and composer. Throughout early piano lessons and conservatory schooling, I found the roles between the composer and performer to be stifling to my creative impulses. This led me to discover some twentieth century piano works that uses the instrument in unusual ways (extended techniques), which engaged me differently as a performer than traditional classical music.
All of this was a predecessor to the toy piano pushing me to see myself as a performance artist. Contrary to the piano, the toy piano has no set ideas on how it should sound or be played. This gives me a great sense of freedom to not only participate in creating a body of repertoire for it, but also to challenge the traditional piano performance approach. It excites me that people don’t know what to expect at a toy piano concert, therefore the people I play for are open to a new experience. A performance is simply a set time and place with surprises and unpredictable events to happen… and this energizes me as a performer in a way that I have never experienced before!
For questions about the instrument itself, so please visit Schoenhut toy pianos.