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Toy Piano Music Festival Coming to Queens for the First Time

 Pianist and composer Phyllis Chen is the organizer behind the UnCaged Toy Piano Festival.
Pianist and composer Phyllis Chen is the organizer behind the UnCaged Toy Piano Festival.
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Rob Dietz

ASTORIA — A music festival centered around the toy piano is coming to Queens for the first time next month, according to its organizer.

The UnCaged Toy Piano Festival will take place Dec. 4 and 5 and feature three events — including a concert at the Museum of the Moving Image — to spotlight the sound of the miniature instrument.

"It sounds like bells," said musician and composer Phyllis Chen, who started hosting the festival in various venues in Manhattan in 2007, initially as a composition contest to encourage more people to create scores for toy pianos.

It's since grown into a biennial event, drawing toy piano players and fans from other states and countries, she said.

"It seems to conjure up lots of feelings of nostalgia," Chen said of the instrument, which looks like a tiny version of a regular piano but uses metal rods to create its sound, according to Chen's website.

"It sounds imperfect," she said. "You are more aware of the mechanics of it, which keeps it from being overly refined."

A pianist since she was five years old, Chen said she first discovered the toy piano when she came across one that was being used as a prop at a puppet theater.

"I was sort of just walking by and brushed upon it," she said. "I touched it and fell in love with the sound."

This is the first year the UnCaged Festival is taking place in Astoria, according to Chen, who's lived in the neighborhood for eight years and said she wanted to host it here to highlight some of the new venues that have opened recently.

"There are so many great places to go," she said. "I just wanted to give the neighborhood a little bit of a boost."

She'll be doing a free, short preview toy piano performance at Hi-Fi Records on Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. as part of the shop's Record Store Day celebration.

The actual festival will kick off a week later on Dec. 4 with its main event, a concert at the Museum of the Moving Image starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online in advance.

It will be followed by an after-party at the Uke Hut, a ukulele store nearby, with a performance by Le Petit Pépinot, a band which includes a toy piano player.

On Dec. 5, the festival will host an event for children at Q.E.D. which will include toy instruments and sing-alongs in Spanish and English. Tickets are $10.