The 2019 Toy Piano Festival

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For the past 19 years, the University of California San Diego Library has held a Toy Piano Festival. It was established to celebrate this unique musical instrument and to pay homage to American composer John Cage.

The Toy Piano Collection on display at a previous festival

Part of the Toy Piano Collection on display at a previous festival

In 1948 Cage wrote his “Suite for Toy Piano”. This was the first serious composition to feature the instrument.

Cage was born on September 5th, 1912 and the annual festival is always held on or around this date.

This year’s 19th Toy Piano Festival takes place at the University of California San Diego’s Geisel Library actually on the composer’s birthday. And an additional allied event will take place at the San Diego Central Library on Sunday, September 15th.

The Geisel Library is the home of an extensive toy piano collection. It comprises instruments, commissioned scores, published literature and recording.

The University of California San Diego's Geisel Library

The University of California San Diego’s Geisel Library

In 2001, at the request of the Collection, the US Library of Congress issued a subject heading and a call number for toy piano scores (M 175 T69). This allows material referencing toy pianos to be formally classified.

UC San Diego’s Scott Paulson is the festival’s driving force. He launched the event back in 2001 and continues to act as the festival director. This year various performers and composers, including Paulson, will showcase their latest works.

Toy Pianos

Toy pianos have been around since the middle of the 19th century. And despite their name, they aren’t produced exclusively for children. In addition to John Cage, bands such as Radiohead, The Cure, and the B-52s have all used them in performance.

They are typically less than 50 cm wide and span between one and three octaves. However, some of the more basic models do not offer a full chromatic scale and only have white notes.

“Traditional” toy pianos use vibrating metal rods, rather than strings, as the sound source. Originally they were “uprights”, but by the 20th century, “toy grands” had become available. Today you can purchase digital models. More information on toy pianos can be found in this previous story.

The instrument’s popularity is down to one man – Albert Schoenhut. He came from a German toy-making family and in 1872 established the Schoenhut Piano Company in America. It is still the world’s leading toy piano manufacturer.

Historic instruments from the Toy Piano Collection

Historic instruments from the Toy Piano Collection

Former producers of these instruments include Jaymar (US, 1920s-70s), Michelsonne (France, 1940s-70s), and J. Chein & Company (US 1900s-1980s). Today Kawai, Korg, Djeco, and various Chinese companies continue to manufacture toy pianos.

Although defined as “toys” many of these pianos can be considered to be proper musical instruments. However, you may recall Lucy telling Schroeder (in the Peanuts cartoon strip) he is playing a toy! And you wouldn’t want to challenge Lucy!

More information on the 19th Annual Toy Piano Festival can be found on The UC San Diego Library website. Celebrate the smallest member of the piano family. Entrance is free.


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One thought on “The 2019 Toy Piano Festival

  1. Karina Kohoutek

    Hola, mi nombre es Karina Kohoutek, soy Argentina y fundadora de la colección TAKK, de Teclados Antiguos, que abarca un gran número de pianos de juguete de todo el mundo. También organizo anualmente, el “Festival del Piano de Juguete en Argentina”, invitando a reconocidos músicos a interpretar variados repertorios en los pianitos de la colección. Los invito a visitar mi página de facebook TAKK, Teclados Antiguos Karina Kohoutek. Me gustaría mantener un contacto estrecho con ustedes, ya que nos une el amor que sentimos por estos pequeños pianos, que han dejado de ser un juguete para convertirse en un instrumento de concierto, que despierta la curiosidad e inspiración de muchos músicos.


    Hello, my name is Karina Kohoutek, I am an Argentine and founder of the TAKK collection of Antique Keyboards, which includes a large number of toy pianos from around the world. I also organize annually the “Toy Piano Festival in Argentina”, inviting renowned musicians to perform various repertoires on the instruments in the collection.

    I invite you to visit my facebook page TAKK, Antique Keyboards Karina Kohoutek. I would like to keep in close contact with you, as we are united by the love we feel for these little pianos, which have ceased to be a toy to become a concert instrument, which arouses the curiosity and inspiration of many musicians.


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