Phyllis Chen, Chimers (2011) from ICE on Vimeo.

“Chimers — which pits a clarinet and violin against a shimmering chorus of tuning forks — proved that Chen is a master of the art of play — serious, serious play.”–Washington Post

 Chimers was written for the International Contemporary Ensemble and the 2011 Mostly Mozart Festival.  ICE asked me to write a new work inspired by Mozart’s famous opera Die Zauberflote. Aside from the flute,  chimes are also used in the opera as a magical instrument that protects Papageno and Tamino during their journey. The orchestration for the chimes in the original score is written for three “keyed” glockenspiels. I found this to be a  great entry point to use my toy piano. In this work, I used a toy piano along with another set of toy piano rods that are attached to the instrument, standing upright on top of the toy piano. These exposed rods are played by all five performers in the piece with tuning forks as mallets. The tuning forks  are made of a heavy metal, very similar to the rods of the toy piano, creating a metallic and electric rattling sound effect.  As the piece progresses, the forks are then played in their more “conventional” approach in a homophonic texture, singing/resonating on the body of the toy piano. Chimers was released on The Nature of Thingness (Starkland) 2016.

Performance Notes:

Chimers is written for five players:



Toy Piano

Toy glockenspiel

Tuning fork player

The piece requires no electronics except for toy piano amplification. A contact microphone is placed under the lid of the toy piano for two functions. First, is to amplify the instrument so that its volume matches the other acoustic instruments. Second, is to amplify the sound of the tuning forks. Since tuning forks need to be placed on a resonating chamber after being struck, the forks are placed on top of the toy piano lid, allowing the microphone from the instrument to pick up the pitches of the tuning fork. By using a low-fi speaker/sound system for amplification, the tuning forks resonate with a slight distortion that is desirable. Every player is responsible for two or three different tuning fork pitches throughout the work. These chorale sections demand additional attention for choreography/movement around the toy piano.