Photos: Salvatore Raciti
“Spunky,” the toy piano I play, was invented in 1872 by Albert Schoenhut, a German toy-maker working in Philadelphia, PA. Toy pianos of the time were made with glass, not the best material for an instrument recommended for 3-6 year-olds. Schoenhut’s great innovation was to replace the glass with metal bars struck by the mallets. My piano has 37 keys and covers 3 octaves from F to f’. For more information, please visit www.schoenhut.com.
|Hear this piano:|
|A Week in the Life of a Toy Piano: Monday (2016)-written by Kaeza Fearn, Live performance, 2018.|
In 1948 the American experimental composer John Cage wrote his Suite for Toy Piano, turning the instrument into a “real” instrument, and not just a toy. In 1949, the Peanuts cartoon appeared, and Schroeder’s toy piano playing created even more interest and sales. Classical composers such as George Crumb, Mauricio Kagel, and many younger composers have used toy piano in their works, often with percussion, and the Library of Congress has a dedicated call number for toy piano scores: M175 T69.
Margaret Leng Tan, the diva of toy piano playing, and a former close collaborator with John Cage, appears at toy piano festivals around the world, often performing some of the many works she has commissioned for the instrument. Like me, she is “intrigued by the toy piano’s magical overtones, hypnotic charm, and not, least, its off-key poignancy.”
For a recent performance with toy piano, please enjoy this video of Monica's recital for the Smith College series Music in the Noon Hour, from October, 2019: