New Music News

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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Meet 2017 Toy Piano Festival Participants – Fabio Luppi & Enrico Mignani

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Fabio Luppi, born in 1992 and graduated in piano, composition and chamber music with honors at Conservatory of Bologna and Enrico Mignani, born in 1997 and graduated in cello with honors at Conservatory of Bologna. They firstly performed together in Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” for the project “The Shoenberg experience” (2012), performing twice at the Conservatory of Bologna and at the “Istituto musicale Jacopo Peri” of Reggio Emilia. As a duo (piano and cello) they performed in several concerts in Italy, for instance at the Foyer of Teatro Manzoni in Bologna, Oratorio di Santa Cecilia (Bologna), Ca’ la Ghironda (Zola Predosa), Artipelago Theatre (Rome), San Vigilio di Marebbe (Bolzano), Dobbiaco (Bolzano), Rocca di Vignola (Modene). As they are both composers, they sometimes write pieces to play in their concerts. They both have a collection of different kinds of toy pianos: they have in total 5 of them by different brands. Fabio has also written a suite for toy piano solo called “Pictures” which has been firstly performed by toy pianist Antonietta Loffredo. Both Enrico and Fabio collaborated with Antonietta writing pieces for orchestra or ensembles for the project “musicaalpresente”. They both won several national and international competitions as soloists or in ensemble. Fabio has published three works for “Ut Orpheus”, ArsPublica and Simon Verlag editions.

What sparked your interest in toy piano?
Fabio and Enrico were invited to write some pieces for toy piano after attending a concert by toy pianist Antonietta Loffredo. She explained them the timbral possibilities of this gracious instrument and the different types of toy pianos. They welcomed with enthusiasm this opportunity and noticed that the duo toy piano and cello worked very well, both in timbral aspects and in dynamic effects.

What do you hope to achieve artistically or educationally from your participation in the festival?
We would like to meet other people with our same interests and to spread our music for this ensemble, perhaps starting a collaboration between Bologna and Tampa Beach. This would be a very important experience for us to grow as musicians by collaborating with other colleagues.

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