Bloomington radio

wfhblogoWhile being back in Bloomington (IN) to fulfill some of my doctoral obligations, I noticed there are many things about Bloomington that makes this place very live-able, such as the good air quality, organic foods, close hiking trails, good coffee shops and laid back sort of feeling. (It’s a shame that many of these things become harder to appreciate as an anxious graduate student.) However, I would say that one of the best things about Bloomington is the radio stations. I use to be an experimental music DJ for the school radio station WIUX that plays a good bunch of Indie-rock, and there is of course WFMT Classical Radio. Every time I drive into Bloomington the first thing I do is look for WFHB Firehouse. They always have such great programming and I have not found any other radio station that has such a unique,eclectic music mix from a dedicated group of volunteers. While driving around this weekend, I heard  such programs like Roots for Breakfast, Native Spirits, Melody Unasked, Youth Radio and Sound Opinions, and many more. It is possible to hear them outside of Bloomington as well so please check out their website!

Music venues and performers

Since moving to New York, I have been looking for great music venues that have a lot of interesting stuff on a regular basis. Often times, artists that are performing there are publicized and previewed in online magazines but the venues themselves don’t get as much limelight attention. Sometimes I think venues have a hard business supporting artists like myself and keeping themselves afloat. Here are a list of some of my favorite alternative new music venues in the NYC area:

The Stone

Issue Project Room

Galapagos Art Space

Le Poisson Rouge



The Tank

This is just a shortlist, but go check them out!

Piano vs. toy piano…the discourse (yet again)

phyllisAs many of you might know, after spending twenty years on the piano, I found the toy piano much later in life and  it has become my instrument of choice. One thing that frustrates me is the amount of skepticism that I am greeted with in disclosing this passion of mine. I have fallen in love with the world of the toy piano for reasons as hard to describe as why people fall in love with music or another human being. I have often been misunderstood as someone who has picked up the toy piano to “diversify” myself as a classical musician and to boost my “image.” Well, let me tell you something– a toy piano really doesn’t seem like the kind of thing someone ought to do to boost their classical “image.” If anything, it probably makes you look weird and maybe even a little bit creepy. People think “there has to be something that makes you look different.” My advice is buy new clothes. Get a mohawk. Get some unconventional piercings or a tattoo. But why would I dedicate so much of my time developing repertoire for the instrument, writing for it, looking for new music for it if I didn’t sincerely believe in it? I have found the instrument to be truly beautiful and legitimate on its own and the need to prove myself as a classical pianist “first”  takes away from the revelation of the toy piano. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy playing piano anymore, but it does mean that I think the toy piano can stand alone as an instrument and I hope that minds aren’t made until it is seen in concert!

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 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!