Toy Orchestra: Serious Art Instruments in the Performing of Melodramas


  • Yen-Lin Goh Tumaini University Makumira, Tanzania


toy orchestra, toys, toy piano, toy instruments, toy ensemble, Ge Gan-ru, Margaret Leng Tan, Lu You, Tang Wan


When people think of dramatic period pieces, they usually think of big, elaborate expressions, filled deeply with heritage and culture. When people think of orchestral music, they usually think of shiny instruments, painstakingly collaborating to produce a cohesive sound. But what do people think about toys? Perhaps they think of children laughing playfully, orolder folks acting a little silly. The aim of this study was to challenge audiences to think of toys as legitimate musical instruments capable of evoking dramatic imagery. Interviews conducted revealed how pianist Margaret Leng Tan (for whom the first melodrama discussed was originally written) envisioned a creative new medium, how composer Ge Gan-ru was inspired by the Phoenix Hairpin (from 12th-century Chinese poet Lu You)to incorporate voice and toys together in dramatic fashion, and how the author (for whom the sequel was commissioned after successfully performing the first melodrama) sought to combine her unique interpretation of culture, language, and art. They all conspired to bring about an avant-garde experience that justified the toy piano and other toys as seriousart instruments capable of rendering the emotions found ina classic romantic tragedy. To be successful, three aspects of this challenging process must be addressed: (1) assembling an inventory of toys capable of being incorporated into a credible source of sound; (2) composing a score that complements the particular performer with the unique sound of selected toy instruments; and (3) discovering personal interpretations, and performing in a genre that does not have any pre-existing performance traditions. The performance success of the toy orchestra in the first melodrama was not only evident from audience approval, but more importantly, the acceptance of the avant- garde experience was evident by the subsequent commission of, and reception for, the sequel.



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How to Cite

Goh, Y.-L. (2015). Toy Orchestra: Serious Art Instruments in the Performing of Melodramas. Malaysian Journal of Music, 4(1), 34–46. Retrieved from