The UnCaged Toy Piano was originally founded in 2007 by Phyllis Chen as a composition competition to expand the music for toy piano. The instrument has gained interest by performers, composers and artists from a large variety of artistic backgrounds. Given the large number of submissions received through the years, UnCaged Toy Piano became a biennial festival that hosts three different events in New York City in December. The festival premieres many of these new works and curates a three-day event, showcasing other artists, performers and makers who are using toys and toy pianos in new music. The festival is greeted with great enthusiasm each time, inspiring concertgoers and performers to cross state borders and oceans to attend. The toy piano movement has surely begun!
Invented in 1872, the toy piano was mostly considered an educational toy for children. It was not until John Cage’s seminal work, Suite For Toy Piano in 1947 that single-handedly turned the toy piano into a concert instrument. In recent decades, a growing number of musicians and audience members have embraced this instrument for its freshness, un-assuming yet quirky quality.
UnCaging the Toy Piano
The toy piano quickly became an instrument that saddled between many other instruments familiar to us — it looks like a miniature full-sized “string” piano, and has the range of many electronic midi keyboards. As an acoustic instrument, it is made of metal rods and reminds people of a glockenspiel, xylophone, gamelan, music box, a poor man’s celesta,harp, mbira, guitar, bells, and many others. Through time, UnCaged Toy Piano hopes to develop idiomatic repertoire for the instrument so that it becomes its own artistic entity, giving attention to a relatively unknown instrument.
UnCaged Toy Piano creates opportunities for musicians, artists and composers to discover and develop its inherent language while promoting it in performances, installations, workshops and educational programs. By holding a competition annually, the UnCaged Toy Piano encourages composers and artists of any age, gender, ethnicity, and background to create works for this instrument.
The competition has received over 200 submissions from composers across the globe to date. The works that are not chosen to be part of the festival are sent to the Giesel King toy piano library collection at the University of California, San Diego.
A brief history of UnCaged
2007-2008: 1st UnCaged Toy Piano Competition (2007-8): Toy Piano and Electronics/Multimedia
2009: 2nd UnCaged Competition: Virtuosity
2010: 3rd UnCaged Competition: DUO Edition for toy piano and cello
2011: 4th UnCaged Competition and Festival: Toy! Toy! Toy!
2012: 5th UnCaged Commissioning Project
2013: 6th UnCaged Competition and Festival: Toy Piano and Unconventional Instrument
2015: 7th UnCaged Festival: Toy Piano in Queens!
2016: 8th UnCaged Competition: UnCaged::Conlon Keyboard Prize (in collaboration with the Conlon Foundation)
2017: 9th UnCaged Festival: Robot Toy Piano