All the Bells and Whistles

Toy Piano Festival Celebrates Its 21st Year

Scott Paulson.

Sue Palmer plays at the festival, 2015.

Monthly columnist Scott Paulson would like to invite San Diego Troubadour readers to the 21st Annual Toy Piano Festival, which is being held as a Facebook Live virtual event this year. Paulson is the founder and director of this popular local festival, hosted on his home turf at the UC San Diego Library, where he is the events and exhibits coordinator.

On September 8 at noon, visit UCSD Geisel Library’s Facebook Live page for our 21st Annual Toy Piano Festival, a free virtual event for listeners of all ages. Hear new works for toy piano!  I will be joined by esteemed toy piano colleagues, including Sue Palmer, Kay Etheridge, Andrea Wingen, Kenneth Herman, Barbara Scheidker, Samara Rice, Alex Segal, Christian Hertzog, Gail Gipson, Kiera Sullivan, Linda Kernohan, Janice Kelsh and some surprise guests! All of us wish we were gathering in person in the Seuss Room, but we’ll be happy to see you via Facebook Live this year!

https://www.facebook.com/ucsdgeisel/

For this year’s Toy Piano Festival, most of our composers and performers sent videos from their home studios, to premiere September 8th at noon on UCSD Geisel Library’s Facebook Live page.

We had a special collaborator, Laurie Bailey, an Art, music, and recreation librarian at the San Diego Central Library, who extended an invitation to Sue Palmer (the Queen of Boogie Woogie) plus Dr. Kay Etheridge and I to film our segments at her downtown location. It’such a treat to be in the remarkable Quigley-designed building for that session! This continues a longtime collaboration between the UC San Diego Library and the San Diego Public Library. We often host the festival live at both venues, and both buildings are quite remarkable, with Robert Quigley’s elegant dome floating at the end of San Diego’s Park Boulevard and William Pereira’s futuristic, tiered temple-like library hovering like a mothership in La Jolla.

Laurie and her downtown team will give a sneak peak of our September 8 festival on September 5, John Cage’s actual birthday. Laurie knows we prefer Sept 5 whenever possible, as Cage was the first to write a “serious” work for toy piano and his birthday is important to us! But Labor Day and any associated library closures on our La Jolla campus often interferes with that date, logistically. Thank you for making space for a sneak preview on September 5, Laurie! Bailey will show—virtually—from her Downtown Central Library social media website, the six or seven short toy piano works we filmed for her…( yes, that special sneak preview subset is also part of the longer UCSD Geisel Library Facebook Live presentation on September 8th.)

What was the inspiration for the annual festival?
In 1999, a missing service bell at a Geisel Library Help Desk spawned a long streak of toy piano activity on the UCSD campus. I hurriedly replaced the missing service bell with a playful tiny keyboard and a sign that read: “Please play on toy piano for service.” And play they did! This surge of musical activity from visitors was the inspiration to host our Annual Toy Piano Festival.

In May 2001, the Library of Congress issued a subject heading and call number for toy piano scores because of our activities at Geisel Library. Scores can be viewed under the call number M 175 T69. This was an important opportunity, because before there was a distinct call number, all of our toy piano scores were mixed with and shelved with regular piano scores in library stacks, making it impossible for a quick grab and go for someone like me at Festival time. Note: The Library of Congress at first declined our request. They required that we submit a definition of toy piano to them to warrant the distinction. We submitted a definition, but my side of this story is that I also threatened to fly out and perform live to prove a point. They quickly said yes to avoid a playful confrontation.

Earlier roots of the festival
UCSD’s history with toy pianos dates back to 1966 when composer Robert Erickson, a founder of the university’s Music Department, wrote a piece for toy pianos and bells that premiered on California’s PBS television stations. As mentioned, the first composer to write a serious work for toy piano was John Cage, who visited the UC San Diego campus on several occasions, including a two-week stay as a Regents Lecturer in the 1980s. I was very lucky to be on campus for Cage’s lectures and am proud to continue a toy piano tradition.

Currently, the Toy Piano Collection at Geisel Library consists of actual instruments, commissioned scores, and extant literature and recordings. Most of the commissioned scores in the collection are composed by UC San Diego alumni.

A SELECTIVE TOY PIANO TIMELINE
(from the Toy Piano Collection at UC San Diego Library)

1872
Albert Schoenhut founds the Schoenhut toy piano company in Philadelphia, PA.

1894
Mrs. W.E. Walsh arrives in San Diego with an 1873 Schoenhut Toy Piano among her possessions.

1933
Opera star Leontyne Price receives a toy piano from her parents and later relays this as the start of her Diva-dom: “I was center stage! And I caught the disease then.”

1938
Jaymar Specialty, Inc. acquires the Schoenhut Toy Piano company.

1948
John Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano is composed, the first serious piece for toy piano.

1951
Schroeder makes his first appearance at the toy piano in Charles Schultz’ Peanuts comic strip.

1960
John Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano receives its concert premiere at the New York Living Theatre.

1964
Robert Erickson, a founding faculty member of UC San Diego’s Department of Music, composes his Piece for Bells and Toy Piano.

1967
First appearance of a toy piano in a Broadway pit orchestra: in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Schroeder plays a prop piano on stage, but a toy piano in the pit provides the sound!

1970
Jeanne Kirstein releases a recording of John Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano on Columbia Records.

1978
Wendy Mae Chambers plays toy piano in George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children.

1979
The first appearance of a toy piano on a Broadway stage: In Act II of the Marvin Hamlisch musical, They’re Playing Our Song, a small red toy piano is delivered on stage as a get well gift in the hospital scene.

1984
Jaymar and Schoenhut split from Rochester Die Cutting, and Frank Trinca buys Jaymar and Schoenhut.

1991
Janice Kelsh establishes the Miniature Piano Enthusiast Club in Chicago.

1993
German composer/performer Bernd Wiesemann releases the CD Neue Musik fur Kinderklavier.

1994
Frank Trinca, of Rochester, New York, purchases the Schoenhut company.

1995
Janice Kelsh moves the Miniature Piano Enthusiast Club to Hagerstown, Maryland, her hometown.

1996
Renee Trinca becomes president of the Schoenhut Toy Piano company, Inc.

1997
Pianist Margaret Leng Tan releases her CD, The Art of the Toy Piano.

2000
Len and Renée Trinca move the Schoenhut Toy Piano factory from Rochester to St. Augustine, Florida, where they live.

2001
First Annual Toy Piano Festival, founded by Scott Paulson, premiers at the UC San Diego Library.

2001
The Library of Congress issues a special call number (M 175 .T69) and subject heading for toy piano scores (granted at the request of the Toy Piano Collection at Geisel Library!)

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