The toy piano may seem like an unlikely candidate for the classical concert hall, yet all around the world, thousands of musicians gather every year for festivals, conferences and concerts featuring this unique instrument. TRICIA DAWN WILLIAMS presents a series of toy piano projects throughout 2024 and 2025 

Tricia Dawn Willams’ exciting journey with the toy piano all started with the pandemic. During the March 2020 lockdown she shot a video playing her toy piano at Dingli Cliffs. The video went viral on social media and as a result she was invited to participate in various international music festivals. This also caught the attention of the Schoenhut toy piano company (USA) who sent Williams their top line 37-key model as an endorsement. Williams began collecting toy pianos and in 2022 she was also invited to record an album in the Czech Republic playing 3 different vintage toy pianos with the Brno Contemporary Orchestra. Williams has been including toy pianos in several of her projects over the past two years, and now, thanks to the Arts Support Scheme of Arts Council Malta, Willams is launching Toy Piano+ a series of toy piano events throughout 2024 and 2025. 

As the title implies, Toy Piano+ goes beyond the solo instrument. In fact, the first concert in the series, entitled Tiny Keys – Big Sounds, taking place on the May 3 at the Spazju Kreattiv theatre, presents a programme for toy piano, electonic music and small percussion instruments. Williams has commissioned ten new works to local and foreign composers. Toy pianos typically have a range of 18 - 37 keys, roughly one quarter the range of a full piano. These acoustic instruments are made from a wood or plastic frame. They produce a bell-like sound when a small hammer hits a tube or flat piece of metal inside. Unlike a typical piano, toy pianos are rarely tuned to perfection, which contributes to their charm and variety of colours between the different models. 

To this effect, Williams organised meetings with each composer to select their preferred instrument from her collection of 10 different toy pianos and to discuss other important attributes such as range and technique.  The music of each composer will explore the toy piano in a different way. Albert Grazia is intrigued by the contrast between the raw mechanical toy piano and an accompanying backtrack of synths and drum machine. Atau Tanaka uses live electronics to capture the live sound and produce echoes that “mirror” the soloist on the toy piano. For Daniel Cauchi’s and Olivia Kieffer’s works, Williams will alternate between the toy piano and additional percussion instruments, such as the cahon wood blocks and jingles. While for the music of Veronique Vella, Williams will have one hand on the keyboard and the other hand turning the crank of a music box – an old fashioned cylinder with pins that rotates over a strip of paper with perforated holes to create a melodic loop. Tiny Keys – Big Sounds also includes new compositions by Luc Houtkamp, Alexander Vella Gregory, MarIella Cassar-Cordina, Christopher Muscat and Kris Spiteri.

Besides Tiny Keys – Big Sounds, the Toy Piano+ series will include two other strands: a concert in January 2025 combining the toy piano with a backdrop of video-art projections and an outreach program of six concerts for children taking place in schools and local councils - featuring a storytelling narration accompanied by a live toy piano soundtrack. Furthermore the new music commissioned for this project will be recorded professionally and released as an album by PARMA Recordings on all music streaming platforms.

Williams’ Tiny Keys – Big Sounds, taking place on May 3 at the Spazju Kreattiv theatre, celebrates the toy piano. This project contributes to the growing repertoire through the commissioned works that will showcase the artistic potential and expressive possibilities of the toy piano. This unique concert inspires audiences and raises the awareness that toy pianos ain’t playing around! They can indeed be considered a concert instrument. Tiny Keys – Big Sounds is part of Toy Piano+ supported by Arts Council Malta.

February 25, 2024

Source: Encore Arts & Culture Magazine Issue 36









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