Post by Petit Pepinot’s toy pianist, Monika Haar
In 2005, I met Margaret Leng Tan during a screening of her film, Sorceress of the New Piano, which documents her close relationship working with John Cage until his passing. I was especially excited for this event since I was introduced to John Cage at a very young age. During the 70’s and 80’s, my father lived in Westbeth Artists Housing and Center for the Arts, where John Cage’s partner, Merce Cunningham, had his contemporary dance studio. I grew up dancing along to Cage’s “Music for Merce Cunningham,” so I felt very familiar with his work, and was intrigued by Margaret’s close relationship with Cage. After the film screening, Margaret generously gave a full solo performance with her various toy pianos. I was transfixed by the toy piano world that she had brought over from New York City to share with us in Honolulu that night.
In 2011, I attended my first performance by Phyllis Chen at an ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) concert. I was moved by her original works for toys, and followed up with my first attendance of her UnCaged Toy Piano festival with a couple of my bandmates from Le Petit Pépinot. At the festival, we were introduced to a whole world of music that was devoted to various toy instruments. Alida, founder of Le Petit Pépinot, mentioned “watching the toy piano festival made me feel strong nostalgic sparks. It ignited the child in me as a musician. I felt dedicated to creating music that involved toy instruments, because their delicacy and high-pitched resonance touched my soul”. The musicians that I was introduced to in Phyllis’s UnCaged Toy Piano festival are now some of my all-time favorite artists, and I am so happy to have discovered such a friendly and quirky group of musicians in New York City.
A couple years ago, on the same night that Le Petit Pépinot performed at Barbés, Terry Dame presented Margaret Leng Tan and Ranjit Bhatnagar at her monthly “Weird Wednesday” series. Before any music was performed, Margaret enthusiastically asked the audience if she should apply to the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s smallest playable toy pianos that she created out of single NYC metro-cards. They were in 3-dimensional grand piano form, lined with many keys for her to play. She used a metal needle to perform her tiny instruments, which conducted electricity from her skin to activate a synthesizer that Ranjit carefully prepared for her. Margaret demonstrated great skill on her toy piano metro-cards, and she mentioned that they were easier to play than acoustic pianos. My mind was blown, and I certainly knew that I found musicians that I wanted to explore more fully. Thankfully, Terry Dame and Phyllis Chen have made it easy for me and many others to easily access the minds and sounds of these creative individuals, by providing a regular platform for them to be showcased.
All of these events inspired us in forming and cultivating the identity Le Petit Pépinot has today. Alida mentioned, “When Monika first took me to the UnCaged Toy Piano Festival in 2011, it ignited the child in me and I started collecting toy instruments soon after. With our percussionist, Dorian, I performed in various ethnic musical groups such as Balinese Gamelan, Afro-Cuban Santeria, and Balkan music at Queens College. This experience felt like the borough Queens: traveling around the globe without even boarding a single plane. Then there’s Ching, our cellist; his positive enthusiasm and wide creativity shines through everything he does. He understands diversity in both music and friends as I do. With that all said, I thank my alma-mater, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, for connecting me with such wonderful musicians who have allowed me to pursue my dream of creating my band, Le Petit Pépinot”.
Le Petit Pépinot is thrilled to be hosting the after-party show for the UnCaged Toy Piano festival this year. Through our love of music, we are excited to present our personal concoction of various cultures to you. It is quite fitting that the festival will take place at the Uke Hut in Queens, as the ukulele is one of our primary instruments. We’re proud to perform in the borough we hold dear to our hearts. We believe that our group is a good representation of how we love and embrace the culturally diverse borough that brought us together. We’re eager to share our latest tunes, and look forward to seeing you at the festival!
Don’t miss Petit Pepinot at the Uke Hut on December 4th at 9:30pm!