Keith Kirchoff

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Program Notes



toy piano, live electronics, and fixed media
Duration: 9 minutes, 40 seconds
Premier: January 2011. Experimental Piano Series, Chicago, IL

Keith Kirchoff, toy piano

As early as high school, I had fallen in love with the toy piano. I resolved to purchase one as soon as possible, and midway through college, I finally purchased my first Schoenhut "concert grand" toy piano. A 37 key wonder, the instrument was a very diminutive grand piano, striking metal rods instead of strings, and reminding everyone who saw it of Schroeder from Peanuts. I quickly immersed myself in the (then) small toy piano repertoire, and composed two pieces myself for toy piano.

Several years later, I commissioned composer Matthew McConnell to write a concerto for toy piano and orchestra - one that would challenge the notion of the toy piano as a cute, quaint, humorous toy. He succeeded with this challenge better than I could have ever hoped, and I have since had the honor of performing this piece twice. The last time was in 2005. Since then, though his concerto has ballooned in popularity thanks to the wonders of YouTube, my toy piano has sat relatively unused in my studio.

Then in 2010 I received an unexpected flurry of toy piano related requests. Three different pianists (in the USA, Canada, and Australia) scheduled performances of my earlier toy piano compositions. Two different pianists (in the USA and Germany) commissioned me to write new toy piano pieces. French pianist Jérémie Honnoré contacted me regarding an article he was writing on toy piano music, and Polish author and multi-instrumentalist Pawel Romanczuk interviewed me for inclusion in his upcoming book chronicling the history of the toy piano. Perhaps there was something in the water, but it became clear the toy piano was on the rise.

With this much attention suddenly on the instrument, I wanted to write something that challenged the notion of what a toy piano could or could not do. By now, nearly everything has been explored on this instrument, including various keyboard and extended techniques. What I felt had been explored very little was the instrument's unique overtone structure and the potential in fusing this with electronics. This piece, then, explores the percussive capabilities of the toy piano and the rich overtones created when the keys are violently struck. Roughly 75% of the electronic material heard is derived directly from the toy piano.