• Jam Session alerts

John Cage, who would have turned 100 on September 5, wrote the first serious composition for toy piano, as odd as it to say those words together in a sentence.

First performed in 1948 and called Suite for Toy Piano, it is as weird as anything ever written by the Los Angeles-born oddball composer. But such as it was, this milestone took place a good three years before Schroeder came to be.

It is likely that Schroeder, and not the elder Cage, was responsible for insinuating toy piano into the dreams and possibly even the genetic material of every baby boomer alive today.

Schroeder, and his red toy piano, first appeared in 1951 in the Peanuts comic strip.

Scott Paulson, of UCSD, and a baby boomer himself was likely influenced by little Schroeder as well, although he claims Mr. Cage as the impetus for launching UCSD's Toy Piano Festival a dozen years ago.

The fest has always been staged in the library as close to the late composer's date of birth as was humanly possible. This year, it falls dead-on the money on the man's centennial.

Paulson himself is known as a man of musical oddities. His toy piano collection: "More than 200, but less than 300." He also has a warehouse full of hundreds of sound effects instruments and noisemakers and bona fide musical instruments that get put to the test as part of his Teeny Tiny Pit Orchestra in which he and a handful of musicians soundtrack behind the screening of old silent films. He is a classical oboist from Maine. The last I saw him he was sitting in my kitchen with a sack full of Stylophones.

Some toy piano points of interest from UCSD's gig release:

UCSD has a history with toy pianos that pre-dates the annual toy piano festival. Composer Robert Erickson, a founder of UCSD's Music Department wrote a piece for toy pianos and bells that was premiered on PBS in 1966. Later, PBS toured the Toy Piano Collection at Geisel Library in January, 2000 with a 30-minute segment edited from a day-long visit from television host Huell Howser.

"This annual festival," writes Paulson, "is a popular show with broad appeal, featuring "serious" works for toy piano, new toy piano works commissioned by the UCSD Arts Library, and, of course, songs from The Cat in the Hat Songbook. Come early to this show, or you may have to sit on the floor," he says, where the toy piano players must sit by dint of the small scale of their instruments.

"Sue Palmer will premiere a new toy piano boogie," he adds. "Ellen Lawson premieres a new work for two toy pianos that is titled "Untitled" and is a tribute to John Cage. Christian Hertzog and I are playing a lesser-known John Cage piece for toy pianos and projections and electronic tape. I am playing the Robert Erickson piece for toy piano. Gail Gipson premieres a new Blues for Toy Piano. Ken Herman will pick from our toy piano scores at the Library. I think Dana Mambourg Zimbric and I will play some lesser-known lullabys from other lands."

Geisel Library's toy piano collection consists of instruments, recordings, extant literature and commissioned scores. "In 2001, because of our activities," Paulson emails, "the Library of Congress issued a special call number and subject heading for Toy Piano Scores: M 175 T69."

Twelfth Annual Toy Piano Festival: Wednesday, September 5, 12:00 p.m. UC San Diego, Geisel Library, main floor, Seuss Room

  • Jam Session alerts

Comments

Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader

Close