Tinkle Tinkle Little Star

Over a few years I had managed to miss Tricia Dawn Williams' concerts, and many others, let me add.  I simply did not make the effort to go to Tricia's as I associated her with new music, contemporary,  avantgarde, call it what you will, simply not classical, which is my first, possibly my only, love.

This time round circumstances - and curiosity - dictated that I attend her Tiny Keys, Big Sounds Contemporary Compositions for Toy Pianos concert, in the theatre-in-the-round, at St James Cavalier. I had interviewed her about it before the concert, which made all the difference.

Tricia Dawn is efficient and a clear thinker and knows where she is going.  A classically trained musician, I simply had to go and see how she was going to handle those toy pianos and what kind of music she was going to produce.

I arrived to a full house and I could see around me some familiar faces. Veronique Vella and Alex Vella Gregory, once scholars of the Napier School of Music in Scotland. Both Veronique and Alex are now successful musicians and composers. There was also the Gozitan musician and composer, Mariella Cassar-Cordina, whose young son is already a starlet in the world of music. All three had written pieces for toy pianos which Tricia played that evening.

After the concert I asked the composers for comments on their compositions, mostly commissioned by Tricia as part of the Toy Piano+ Project and supported by Arts Council Malta. Here are a few comments chosen at random.

Veronique Vella whose composition was W.A.R (When Angels Rest) is a short three- movement work.The piece is dedicated to all those children suffering at the hands of war.

Veronique comments: "It is the first piece I've written in this genre. The outer movements are written for toy piano and music box and the middle movement is for toy piano solo. I found the process to be interesting due to the limitations of pitch and dynamic range of both the toy piano and music box. These restrictions didn't get in the way of creating expressive pieces for the instruments. There is something quite magical about the combination, I felt."

Alexander Vella Gregory is extremely active in the world of music. He teaches it,  formed a male plain chant group and also composes. The piece performed by Tricia that evening is his first and only piece for toy piano. Alex never loses his sense of humour which is very refreshing. His piece: An Otterly Serious Piece for 18-key, 25-key, 30-key & 37-key Schoenhuts. His charming and witty notes are too long to include here.  I will just add the following Addendum: "The piece is intended mostly as a 'children's piece' hence the humour...but it's also to raise awareness about otters...and biodiversity in general. Most otter species are threatened or endangered mostly because of (you guessed it) humans!"

Halloween Sugar Rush for 30-key Jaymar & electronics was Albert Garzia's contribution, that evening. He comments: "Halloween Sugar Rush is in fact my first composition for Toy Piano. It was written during (guess what) ... Halloween. The musical motif is obsessive, grotesque and possibly a little bit creepy as well. Its juxtaposition with a title that suggests the busy kids' 'trick or treating' activity in the streets, made a funny impression (possibly even a sweet one if I may)."

Echolocate - for toy piano and harmonizing delay by Atau Tanaka was the second piece Atau Tanaka had been commissioned by Tricia but his first piece for toy piano. I feel that his comments are too technical and too long to be included here.

Dr Olivia Kieffer has written 129 solos for toy piano plus many chamber music pieces which have toy piano in them, including a Double Concerto for Toy Pianos and Chamber Orchestra. 

That evening Tricia Dawn played the composer's The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, a solo for 18-key toy piano "which generally has a dryer sound than larger toy pianos - plus two woodblocks and a jingle stick. The 7 gifts are: wisdom, counsel, understanding, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of God. Different sections of the piece refer to each of these gifts." 

Dr Kieffer, is a composer, percussionist, toy pianist and visiting Professor of Music at Grand Valley State University.

On that evening's programme was Maestro Christopher Muscat, composer and conductor, who is intimately associated with The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. He recently premiered an oratorio with a long Maltese name which I don't remember but which I recall as being very well received, by myself included.

His composition for that evening had the delicious name of Petit Four and everyone knows what that means.  While the term would literally translate as 'small oven', the composer plays around with the words and adopts a mixed French and English interpretations of the title, thus the resultant four small (sic) movements. Since this work is originally scored for one or more toy pianos, in a way, this work may be defined as 'four bite-sized movements for bite-sized pianos'.  Petit Four is a jovial work that evokes memories of childhood with its simplistic melodic lines and playful rhythms."

Other composers were Mariella Cassar-Cordina, Luc Houtkamp, Kris Spiteri and Daniel Cauchi. No less worthy than the others, I apologise for leaving you out. The force of circumstance.

I am going to give a general commentary about this unusual concert; my feelings at the end of the evening. All in all it was a most pleasant feeling. Good vibes. Good karma. First of all I admired the performer. Very neat but stylishly dressed. Yes, this was a show and important how the performer (s) present themselves. Tricia did not distract the audience from the music, for that too is important. Her movements too, were elegant.  The way she glided from piano to piano, played two at a time, rearranged  them, stepping lightly from a very crowded 'stage' without upsetting anything, just like a ballerina.  You had to see it to believe. She is really made for this delicate work with toy pianos. I don't think there is anyone in the audience who did not enjoy this performance.

These pieces and others will be recorded soon and an album will be released by Parma records. This kind of concert doesn't just happen. Tricia practices some five hours a day and goes on to teach too added to the one hundred other chores and errands she doesn't talk about but which have to be done to keep a household civilised.  Where there is a will, there's a way. She has my admiration.

Photos by Matthew Mirabelli

May 21, 2024

Words by Marie Benoit

Source: The Malta Independent

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