A toy piano played to perfection? Who would have dreamed that a full grown woman sitting cross-legged on a soft cushion in front of a TOY grand would give a virtuoso performance? Perhaps a three-year old tinkering with its tiny keys, making sounds run into each other with rhythmic abandon would be the perfect poster child for FAO Schwarz.
But these very serendipitous poly-rhythms, springing from the fingers of small children in their musical playground, have been channeled by Phyllis Chen into impressive multi-media sound explorations.
Toy pianos in different shapes, sizes, and wood grain, are played like real musical instruments with a variety of tonal and rhythmic resources. And in Chen’s dexterous hands, these miniatures have been elevated to respectable music-making status.
Here’s an awesome You tube sample:
A personal Back Story:
Like so many children, I was infatuated with the ping of a tiny piano and desperately wanted a bright red one, but never had my wish fulfilled.
Every Chanukah, it was the same old dolls, toy cribs, cardboard cut-outs, pencil and pen kits piled high, when all I desired was a toy piano whose notes sounded pleasantly out of tune.
The next door neighbor’s kid had the prize and it was usually buried among every toy known to mankind. You could see the charming mini-piano laying on its side, kicked a few times too many, managing to survive a Tonka truck pile-up. Rarely, did sounds emanate from it, except when a jealous playmate like me managed to sneak over to touch it, if only briefly.
And then, all at once, it was dinner time, when toys had to be cleared immediately from the main area and stacked off to the side. Another lost opportunity. (At Oberlin, I had a chance to play a celesta, the Tinkerbell-sounding instrument from Peter Pan, a near facsimile of a toy piano but it wasn’t the same as being a child again, gazing with wonderment at something I couldn’t possess)
Phyllis Chen has swept up such childhood regrets, putting toy pianos front and center in the spotlight. She’s nourished an atmosphere where little kids and adults can finally lay hands on tiny, beautifully encased keyboards in the full light of day without a shred of guilt. They might even consider learning how to navigate one of these charming miniatures with skill and finesse.
In the meantime, as we explore these toy grands, scaling down our keyboard geographies, Phyllis Chen will continue to expand her repertoire to delightfully engage our ears. We might not yet know where this novel music will take us, but the adventure into new tonal regions will be half the fun!
Visit Phyllis Chen’s website: