Toy Chops

Toy Chops

Remember Charles Schultz’s little musical prodigy, Schroeder, who banged his heart out on his toy piano? Well, he’s got a female counterpart: Phyllis Chen, a brilliant pianist, composer and performance artist whose life changed one day in 2001 when she discovered John Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano . It was love at first sound, and Chen — a multi-award-winning artist whose credits include honors at the International Bartok/Kabalevsky Piano and the Coleman Chamber Music competitions, and a special Bach Prize at Chicago’s Marjorie Barnett Competition for her performance of the Goldberg Variations — embarked upon a new career composing for and performing on the instrument most of us have passed off as nothing more than an annoying kiddie keyboard. Invented in the early 1900s, toy pianos have a two to three-octave range and are comprised of metal rods and plastic hammers — seemingly not an imposing forum for artistic expression. But Chen has proven otherwise, elevating the toy piano to legitimate status with original multimedia compositions like The Memorist , written for three toy pianos, laptop, sampling keyboard, bowls, music box, frying pan, pillow and stuffed bunny. Chen even organized a new composition competition, The UnCaged Toy Piano, with the winning works premiering in New York last spring. It’s quite a sight to see Chen sitting cross-legged on a pillow and tinkling away at a teensy-weensy toy grand piano, and one gives her as much credit for her ability to perform in such an uncomfortable position as for the creative genius she applies to her newfound passion. Chen performs in a Chamber Music in Historic Sites concert at a venue as quirky as she is — the Residence for a Briard, an eco-friendly Hybrid House designed by architect Whitney Sander and named for the owners’ large Briard dog, who influenced design and materials throughout the house. In Culver City (address and directions given upon ticket purchase); Sun., Nov. 16, noon, 2 & 4 p.m.; light reception between concerts; $90. (213) 477-2929, www.dacamera.org.
Sun., Nov. 16, 12, 2 & 4 p.m., 2008