Adding more to the collection

mbonpno1It only seems natural to be curious about music boxes when playing a toy piano all day long. They have a lot of similarities actually–  both instruments have teeth/tines made of metal and both are dependent upon some sort of box as a resonating chamber. My recent fascination with music boxes has led me to acquire nearly ten of them in the last couple of months.  The amazement of punching holes into the music strips and cranking them through has still not worn off on me yet! I have been experimenting with a variety of resonating chambers for the mechanism, including toy pianos, wine glasses, and most recently , tin cans.  This photo is a music box attached to a Twinings tin can that has been spray-painted.

Aside from the acoustic music boxes, I have been sampling the sounds and creating a new collection of works for music boxes and electronics. More details to come on this developing project!

A good bunch for the 2nd UnCaged

Thanks to everyone who sent in submissions for the 2nd UnCaged Toy Piano Competition! I have been utterly giddy and thrilled with this year’s submissions. I don’t know how it’s going to be possible to pick one winner. I have  browsed through some of the scores and I am already impressed with the abundance of good toy piano ideas people are sending me. When I came home from the post office yesterday carrying a bagful of submissions, I felt like a kid on Christmas Day. I’m glad that I will have the help of Wendy Mae Chambers, Margaret Leng Tan and Nathan Davis to look at all of this year’s works.

I decided to host a toy piano composition competiton over a year ago when I was looking for more works written for the instrument.  This year, I have received works from the US, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Australia, Korea, Japan, Greece, Portugal, Argentina, and England.  I cannot thank the composers enough for spending time and energy on such a specific and quirky project. I’ll be in touch with everyone  very soon!

A Chameleon-like instrument indeed

After performing my solo toy piano concerts, many people  like to tell me  what other instruments the toy piano reminds them of. I always thought this was something people did since they were still grappling with the idea of a toy piano as a musical instrument. I have been told that it sounds like  a kalimba (African thumb piano), a koto (Japanese plucked instrument), a xylophone, a celeste, a gamelan, vibes, clock chimes, a harpsichord, a musicbox, teacups, silverware, and many many other instruments. Oddly, it seems like the instrument has the least to do with the sound of an actual piano.  The piano is such a popular instrument that our ears are so accustomed to hearing it in any musical genre, whether it be at bars, clubs, concert halls, on the radio, or in living rooms. But the toy piano has its appearance, but the sound is so chameleon-like and hard to peg. From one moment it has the ability to sound quite melodic and delicate, mimicking the child-like innocence that people often associate with a toy piano, and all of a sudden it can sound like a bright percussive instrument made of plastic. I am still completely enthralled by the ever-changing nature of the toy piano’s sound. With this great ability to change,there is still so much potential for new music and new experiments–l still feel like a kid discovering an instrument for the first time!

Coraline (the musical) is now showing

Tonight was our first run-through of Coraline the musical at the Lucille Lortel Theater.  I have felt extremely lucky and excited to be part of this incredibly unique project. The music is written by the singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt (from the Magnetic Fields) and everything is scored for solo musician. I am playing toy pianos, prepared piano and regular “adult” piano throughout the entire show. This is a project that was apparently in the making for over seven years between Stephin, Neil Gaiman (author),  David Greenspan (bookwright) and Leigh Silverman (director).  I joined the team about a year ago when I came to New York to explore prepared piano sounds with Stephin. I can still remember some of the odd noises we seem to be able to create by cramming a lot of  junk into an upright piano. The “finished” prepared piano has evolved quite a lot since then–in fact, 69 out of the 88 keys of the piano have some sort of preparation on it. The timbre of the piano is altered by using screws, bolts, erasers, rubber bands, playing cards, jingle bells, banana clips, pennies, pipe cleaner, a knitting needle and other found objects. The amount of detail in this show is a bit overwhelming, but I believe it to be a truly magical piece of work. Please come see it at the Lucille Lortel Theater (Bedford/Christopher St.) in the West Village! Previews start tomorrow and our official opening is June 1st.