New Music News

2018 Florida International Toy Piano Festival Resident Artists

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The 2018 Florida International Toy Piano Festival features the inauguration of the first performing artist residency in the City of St. Petersburg, FL. Two festival alumni were chosen by The New Music Conflagration, Inc.’s Executive Director (Elizabeth A. Baker) and Co-Artistic Director (Mikel Thomas) and five more were chosen from an open call for proposals. The artist residents will live in cabins on the Pioneer Settlement side of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve for a week (January 2-8, 2018) during which time they will engage with the local community through public performances, open workshops, school visits, and lectures. The artist residents will also, spend time exploring the nature preserve and create new works influenced by their local experiences.

2018 Pioneer Settlement Artists-In-Residence
Melissa Grey & David Morneau – l’Artiste ordinaire (NYC)
Cindy Giron (The Hague, The Netherlands)
Daniel Fawcett & Li Tao – TATAT Ensemble (Chicago, IL & Eugene, OR)
Jonathan Hannau & Kelley Sheehan – Plucky Plunkers (Chicago, IL)

This program has been made possible by: The New Music Conflagration, Inc.; The City of Saint Petersburg, Florida; The Florida Department for Cultural Affairs; The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance; and Creative Pinellas.

02_lAo_photo_by_Rachel_Cheetham-Richard.jpgMelissa Grey & David Morneau – l’Artiste ordinaire (NYC)

Established in January 2016, l’Ao is a collaborative partnership between composer- performers Melissa Grey & David Morneau. They have three expansive projects: MOTHER, a love letter to the ocean, a hand-made card from her grateful children; Photon Ecstasy, a growing catalog of compositions that engages music, sound, science fiction, and interactive light to address the hubris of certainty; and Soft Series, a concert series dedicated to presenting soft premieres. These projects allow l’Ao to collaborate and connect with musicians, artists, engineers, scientists, and designers. For MOTHER, they have been selected as the 2018 Toy Piano Pioneer Resident Artists at the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. The premiere of Photon Ecstasy was commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center in conjunction with the exhibition of Dan Rose’s artist books, Plaisirs Arbitraires | Arbitrary Pleasures. New York Arts wrote that with repeated listenings “there’s more to be moved and impressed by, to learn from [Photon Ecstasy].” Their first collaboration, Gadget Berry Dimple: A Glossary of False Translation (benjolin, Merlin, spoken word), was performed for Hans Tammen’s 100th Anniversary of Dada at Spectrum NYC and has been published by Circumference journal, which supports poetry in translation.

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Cindy Giron (The Hague, The Netherlands)

Cindy Giron is a composer, performer, and educator based in Boston and The Netherlands. Intrigued by silences, textures, journeys, contrasts, and conversations, her music explores all instrumentations from solo, chamber, orchestral, electronic compositions, all the way to merging different art forms, sometimes creating installations. As a 2014 First Music winner, Giron was commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony for Nelumbo, an orchestral piece with a premiere at Carnegie Hall and the United Palace Theater in New York City. Other collaborations include having not forgotten, a solo percussion piece commissioned by Gavin Ryan with a premiere in Provo, Utah and Gothenburg, Sweden. This year, Giron collaborated with the contemporary Dutch ensemble Kluster5 for the creation of her new chamber ensemble piece oNo, and also received a commission from St. Petersburg, Florida’s RogueDance Collective for her piece hu-nature, an electronic track accompanying excerpts, a newly choreographed work. Past travels and collaborations include participation as a composition fellow at Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA (2014), Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music in Germany (summer 2014 and 2016), and the Impuls International Ensemble and Composers Academy in Graz, Austria (2015). At Impuls, Giron created her first installation Friluftsliv, in collaboration with cinematographer Toshiki Yashiro. This past year, Giron also participated as a composer and performer at Co-Incidence, an experimental music residency in Somerville, MA during January 2017. At Co-Incidence, Giron premiered her mono-drama i-4-1-2 for electronics, video, lights, voice and metal objects. It was during this time that she also created a new installation Blanket for performers, fabric and movement. Recent performances include participation at the 2017 Wave Field Synthesis Festival in Den Haag, Netherlands, the Third Life Studio in Somerville, MA. Giron holds a Bachelors of Music from Manhattan School of Music, a Masters in Music Theory and Composition from NYU Steinhardt, and is currently studying her second Masters Degree in Music Composition with Practice-Based Research and a minor in Contemporary Piano Performance at The Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague, Netherlands.

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Daniel Fawcett & Li Tao – TATAT Ensemble (Chicago, IL & Eugene, OR)

Tatat Ensemble is an ensemble dedicated to the performance of new music by living composers. Founded in 2017 by Li Tao and Daniel Fawcett, they have sought to combine their interests in theater, poetry, electronic media and visual art to create unique concert experiences for their audiences. They actively try and create large concert length works often implementing lesser-known, self-created musical instruments. Additionally, they seek to encourage artists of all fields to help them build an active repertoire for rarities such the as toy piano, theremin, music boxes and more. Currently, they have an ongoing project currently taking place through various social medias entitled #picturethis where they are asking both musicians and non-musicians alike to submit graphic scores for them to interpret. They hope this will bring forth more active participation and greater interest in new music.

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Jonathan Hannau & Kelley Sheehan – Plucky Plunkers (Chicago, IL)

Plucky Plunkers has ambiguous beginnings and ambiguous endings. Touting the banner as Chicago’s best and only toy piano duo they seek to engage audiences in riveting concerts that have been described as, “Pretty cool I guess”, and “Yea it was fun to listen to”. They collaborate regularly with composers in and around the city and seek to push the toy piano medium to some arbitrarily high level through eclectic programming and death defying stunts. Jonathan is a proud Schoenhut artist who plays with not one but two upright toy pianos each with it’s own unique sound. His comrade Kelley is a proud BC toy piano artist who plays on a two and a half octave baby grand. Unfortunately because of their own pride and hubris it has created a heavy rivalry in the group due to their concepts of what model is better. It should be noted that both were paid heavily by each company to say that theirs is better. They are currently in the process of planning their second show “The meme show”.


Adventures in Writing a Whole Lot of Music

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Heavens! Have I been writing a lot of music for the Festival. It’s been a great experience; I’m learning a lot about writing for new instruments and ensembles, and having fun!

Part of my duties as Composer In Residence include writing 2 pieces for Osceola Middle School (instrumentation: flute/alto sax/trumpet/horn/trombone/toy piano); “Industrial Joy”, and “Play the Room” which is a structured-improv graphic score. These pieces, alongside improvisations with the Fairmount Park Elementary School drummers, will be performed on the Children’s Outreach Concerts on January 5 at the Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center, along with music by USF Music Composition students Logan Barrett and Katlyn Lappert. Also on the concert, Elizabeth Baker and dancer/choreographer Helen Hansen French will perform a section from their recent film collaboration exploring the balance of being an artist-mother.

I had never written for brass before, so I recruited some Reinhardt students to do a reading session of “Industrial Joy”. This was super helpful, and we had a real hoot! Elizabeth gave me some pointers on writing for elementary school kids after I wrote drum parts that I thought were very simple, but in fact were kind of hard. Experiments!

How about a little “Joe the Painter” arranged and expanded for Indian harmonium, mandolin, and cello?

For my Lecture Recital “The Toy Piano as a Compositional Tool”, I’ll be using pieces from my book of toy piano shorts “The Texture of Activity” to illustrate several ideas. Some topics of the lecture include The Range of the Instrument as Useful for Keyboard Percussion, and The Inherent Limitations of the Toy Piano as a Basis for Rhythmically Adventurous Writing. I needed more examples of expanding a toy piano miniature into a larger arrangement, so I’ve been arranging several more of these pieces for the Guest Artists to perform at the lecture. Be sure to check out the other Lectures, by Adam Scott Neal and Alan Shockley!

On January 8 at the final Toy Piano Collaborations concert of the Festival, my piece “Four Thunder Sheets & Lion Roars” will be performed by Guest Artists Amy O’Dell on toy pianos, Erich Barganier on mandolin, Carrie Frey on viola, and Mandy Milliot on cello. You can hear a little MIDI excerpt here. It’s good old fashioned fun!

I am very excited about meeting all the (very impressive!) toy piano composers and enthusiasts at the Festival. CHEERS!






A Brief History of me & Toy Pianos

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Hello! I’m Olivia Kieffer, Composer in Residence for the 2017 Florida International Toy Piano Festival. I’m a percussionist and college teacher, living in Atlanta. Periodically, I’ll be making blog posts leading up to the Festival, chronicling my time working with the Pinellas County elementary and middle school students and preparing for my lecture recital. Plus other musical adventures! Today we’ll start with a little back story.

It was May of 2015, and I had just moved to Ormewood Park, which is a nice Atlanta neighborhood with old houses that have big porches. My dear friend (and a totally boss keyboardist) Amy O’Dell asked me to write her a toy piano solo, which would be part of an upcoming concert of toy piano solos written for her, called “Find Your Inner Child” (and, turns out, an album as well, with all of those pieces on it!).  In her parameters for the piece, she threw out the idea, “you could use 2 toy pianos; one for each hand.” Score! So, I hunkered down in Garageband with my m-audio keyboard, and squirreled together this piece Nobility of Homophones in less than 2 weeks, from bits of old music that no one was supposed to hear + some new ideas + a whole lot of connective material. I loved every moment of writing this piece! It was a pleasure to shrinky-dink/Tetris the intervals so they fit into the range of the instruments.

Me (L), Amy (R): we are totally in a band together. OK 2 bands. 

In June I went to the Charlotte New Music Festival Composer’s Workshop, which was a life-changing and radical 2 weeks where I got to meet one of my musical heroes, and I came home to a gift from my roommate; a red 25-key toy piano. I took it out to the front porch to play that night, in a rainstorm where all the power went out, and decided I wanted to write a short toy piano piece for each one of my friends. In July was Amy’s awesome “Find Your Inner Child” concert, after which she went on to perform Homophones in many venues and concerts, including at the 2016 Florida International Toy Piano Festival.

“Big Red” & “The Klunker”

But actually, my first encounter with a toy piano was several years before that, when my husband (at the time) came home with a disheveled and gloriously out of tune #Schoenhut baby grand with no legs, that he found at the thrift store. I brought it to school and my percussion ensemble students used it in a performance of John Cage’s Living Room Music. That beautiful instrument now resides in California, where it enjoys the daily ocean breezes.


Fast forward just a bit, to September 2015. I had just moved (again!), this time to my friends’ basement in the backwoods of Decatur. Their 4 year old daughter had a pink 18-key toy piano, which is just the klunkiest, most marvelous thing ever. She let me take it downstairs and I played it, alongside my red 25-key, and started writing the miniatures dedicated to my friends.

“Clibberace”(like Liberace), plus rye whiskey, sans candelabra

I made rules about the pieces, like “you only get 1 hour to write + videotape each piece” and “it has to be circa 1 minute long” and – let me tell you – I followed those rules without fail. What an enormous pleasure it was, tinkering out those pieces! This project is now a completed book of 55 toy piano solos (some for 2 toy pianos, but most for 1), called “The Texture of Activity.” It spanned 9 months, and more than 100 hours of sporadic notating. This music is filled with love!

I expanded one of these pieces, Down the Hatch, She Wrote (for William Susman), and arranged it for vibraphone duet. And created a book of vibraphone solos derived from the toy piano miniatures. But more on arrangements, next time! Cheers!

**You can buy the 1st edition “Texture of Activity” score book by emailing Living Creatures Press. A 2nd Edition is in the works, edited by another one of my musical heroes, which will be exactly the same music but notated quite differently (aka. WAY easier to read)!**






Meet 2017 Toy Piano Festival Participant – Ruud Roelofsen

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Ruud Roelofsen studied percussion in the conservatory of Arnhem, Münster (D) and Brussels (B). Ruud received masterclasses in composition with Dmitri Kourliandski, Carola Bauckholt, Richard Ayres and Martijn Padding. In 2013 he was selected for the “Young Composers Meeting” in Apeldoorn. „*In+” for tape was selected in the final round for the Luigi Russolo Award 2013. „Stare #1” is a winning piece in the MUSICAPOI competition in Italy in 2014. Ruud worked with ensembles like: 20o dans le noir (Fr), Kugoni Trio (B), Il Canto di Rame (NL), AtonalHits (USA), Parallel Asteroid (D), Orkest de Ereprijs (NL), Vers Ensemble (NL), Duo Wolke/Brülls (D) and also with renowned players like Lan Thanh Cao, Johan van der Linden, Tania Sikelianou,…

What sparked your interest in toy piano?
Someone in my working network asked for a piece, so I started to investigate and got interested.

What do you hope to achieve artistically or educationally from your participation in the festival?
It is quite a while ago when I wrote the piece. It would be interesting for me to go back to the piece again.

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Meet 2017 Toy Piano Festival Participant – Michael Boyd

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Michael Boyd, Assistant Professor of Music at Chatham University, is a composer, scholar, and experimental improviser. His music embraces experimental practices such as installation, multimedia, and performance art, and has been performed in a variety of venues throughout the United States and abroad. Boyd has published articles in Perspectives of New Music, Tempo, and Notes. He is active in his community, currently serving a second elected term on the Wilkins Township Board of Commissioners. An active cyclist, Boyd often bikes to work and periodically competes in mountain bike races (and has the scars to prove the latter…).

What sparked your interest in toy piano?
Working with David Smooke and the League of the Unsound Sound a few years ago as well as hearing Phyllis Chen perform several years ago at a Clark University festival.

What do you hope to achieve artistically or educationally from your participation in the festival?
The festival has a very interesting group of featured performers – working with some of them would be very artistically rewarding. Since most of my music is variously indeterminate, every performance is a completely new experience.

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Meet 2017 Toy Piano Festival Participant – Zachary Konick

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Zach Konick is a composer and percussionist, currently residing in Tampa, Florida. He recently graduated from the University of Maryland College Park, where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in music composition. In his time at Maryland, Zach studied composition under the tutelage of Dr. Thomas DeLio and Mark Wilson, and studied percussion under Dr. Lee Hinkle and John Locke of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He performed drums and percussion for many musical theater performances and church services in and around the Metropolitan area. In his time at Maryland, Zach has achieved many honorable representations of his work, having received readings and performances by such notable ensembles as The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (conducted by Oliver Knussen), the new Ear Ensemble, the JACK String Quartet, the Ethel String Quartet, and the Spektral String Quartet, as well as a performance of his marimba solo by Lee Hinkle. Zach also received the honor of studying under Roger Reynolds during a winter composition course at the University of California, Washington D.C. He is currently pursuing his Masters Degree at the University of South Florida in music composition, under Dr.Baljinder Sekhon and Paul Reller. He also currently enjoys playing percussion in the University of South Florida Percussion Ensemble under Robert McCormick. Zach hopes to go on to earn his Doctoral Degree in music composition with the aspiration of becoming a professor of music composition.

What sparked your interest in toy piano?
I have not considered actually composing for the toy piano until I discovered this festival as a unique opportunity. However, I was vaguely familiar with its growing use in classical contemporary literature, as popularized by John Cage. I found this piece to be a challenge to compose as the timbral quality of the toy piano is rather limiting and fairly unclear in pitch recognition. Yet, it cannot be ruled out as having its own unique quality that deserves attention from the musical community and through festivals like this one, it is continuing to gain significance in serious contemporary music literature.

What do you hope to achieve artistically or educationally from your participation in the festival?
As in any composition reading situation, I am always striving to hone my abilities in the composition process, both on and away from the manuscript paper. Interacting with performers who interpret my writings has always provided me an invaluable experience which has helped me grow as a musician. Further, composing for the toy piano was a new experience for me as well and I am very interested in hopefully seeing my creation realized by authentic, live instruments.

Meet 2017 Toy Piano Festival Participant – Stacey Barelos

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As a pianist, Stacey Barelos specializes in the music of the 20th and 21st centuries, particularly the music of living composers. Her solo release, The Midwest American Piano Project, which features works by living composers with ties to the American Midwest, was released by Albany Records in 2008. The American Record Guide said “Stacey Barelos…plays with authority and poetic nuance, her beautiful tone captured vividly in this warm recording…” Regarding her performance of Henry Cowell’s Dynamic Motion and the Five Encores to Dynamic Motion, Gunther Schuller said, “It was by far the best performing of Cowell’s piano music I’ve heard in a half a century – or perhaps ever.”

Much of her research, dedicated to helping performers and teachers with the music of Henry Cowell, can be found on her website, Her CD of piano music by Cowell was released by Centaur Records in 2012.

As a composer, Stacey’s works have been performed across the U.S. and in Europe and Australia. Recent premieres include thread, stitch, weave, bind for string ensemble inspired by the work of Sheila Hicks and showcased at the 2016 Omaha Under the Radar Festival and The Piano is Stressing Us Out written especially for the audience at her 2015 TEDx Omaha talk. Her works can be heard on the Albany and Blue Griffin labels.

Currently, Stacey teaches piano, theory and composition at the Omaha Conservatory of Music and is the Education Director for the Omaha Under the Radar Festival. For more information, see her website,

What sparked your interest in toy piano?
I have been composing and playing new music for almost twenty years. One of my specializations is with the music of Henry Cowell, someone whom I believe would have a special kinship with the toy piano today. Cowell’s music and his approach to it include the same child-like wonder as much in the toy piano catalogue.

As a performer, I specialize in music with extended techniques or that incorporates other instruments such as percussion or voices. When I first started hearing serious toy piano music many years ago, I was intrigued. As it gained in popularity, I found myself continuing to come back to the sounds of the instrument, collecting everything I could find. Three years ago I decided to take a leap and purchase my first toy piano. It has been a labor of love ever since. While I am just beginning my toy piano career, I have commissioned three works and have received funding to compose my own set of toy piano pieces. The more I learn, the more I want to play. As I add more music (and more toy instruments!) to my repertoire, I am ecstatic to be a part of this movement and look forward to continue to contribute to the world of toy piano music.

What do you hope to achieve artistically or educationally from your participation in the festival?
As a toy pianist based in Omaha, Nebraska, I sometimes (okay, often) feel removed from the toy piano world. I hope to attend this festival and be immersed in all things toy piano and beyond.

First and foremost, I want to learn from specialists in the field. What are the trends in toy instrument music? What are people doing around the country and the world? What other repertoire is available? Who else is composing toy piano music?

Secondly, I hope to connect with other performers and composers. I am part of a team of women that run a new music festival in Omaha and would love to hear and see more about what this festival offers. Do we face similar challenges? What can I learn from your fabulous festival?

Lastly, this festival seems unlike any that I have attended in the past. While I have been to so many of the available new music festivals and conferences, this festival seems to offer not only a rare voice, with its focus on toy instruments, but also gives a voice to diversity, something often lacking in the new music world.

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