Toy Symphony Comes To Town

Machover’s Opus Makes US Debut Amid a Raft of Related Activities

The Toy Symphony project comes to the United States this spring following its European debut in Glasgow, Dublin and Berlin, where it received enormous acclaim from the international press.

Created by composer and inventor Tod Machover, Professor of Music and Media, in collaboration with his team at the MIT Media Lab, Toy Symphony is a three-year global venture that radically alters how children are introduced to music, and bridges the gap between professional musicians and children, audience and performers.

Its US premiere will be surrounded by a host of related activities, including intensive educational workshops, a major museum exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt in Manhattan, a CD release of Machover’s Hyperstring Trilogy and the commercial launch of the project’s Music Toys by Fisher-Price.  All of which leads up to two culminating concerts – in Boston on April 26 at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium (free!) (but reservations required), and in New York on May 17 & 18 at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden (no tickets: first come-first served).

Using groundbreaking, high-tech Music Toys designed by Machover and the MIT Media Lab, Toy Symphony lets children engage in sophisticated listening, performing and even composing alongside world-class adult virtuosi, encouraging expression and creativity in advance of technical mastery.  According to The New York Times, it is “as if one could speak a foreign language simply by deciding what one wanted to say and using one’s body in a natural way.”

By eliminating years of practice while rewarding imagination and feeling – letting children fall in love with music first, and then pursue deeper knowledge and participation – Toy Symphony not only lays the groundwork for the continued musical development of the participating children, it may also yield new insights into the learning process and the role that technology can play in bringing music and children together.

The toys themselves are sophisticated interactive instruments that any person with the desire to make music can play:

Music shapers are soft, squeezable instruments that let players mold, transform and explore musical material, allowing children access to such musical parameters as contour, timbre, density and structure, rarely accessible except after many years of study.

Beatbugs are percussive instruments that allow the player to create complicated rhythmic patterns which it can then store, play back and even swap with other Beatbugs, linking players in an intricate network.

Hyperscore, the principal composition tool of the Toy Symphony project – is an electronic musical sketch pad that gives children the power to create sophisticated compositions which can then be played by a live orchestra.  Through freehand drawing on a specially designed graphic interface, one creates his or her own musical materials that are then annotated along the spine of a ‘narrative line’ to realize a full piece.  (Hyperscore is available for free download from the Toy Symphony website, and the community of international Hyperscore users – and the online archive of Hyperscore pieces – is rapidly growing.)

Children in both New York and Boston have already begun to participate in workshops using Hyperscore, exploring fundamental musical ideas and translating these ideas into real compositions.  The best of those compositions will be transcribed for acoustic instruments and performed at the public concerts in Boston, as part of the Boston Cyberarts Festival, and in New York, as part of the Vectors Festival.

In addition to the children’s compositions, the concert programs will include two new Machover compositions – Sparkler for Hyperorchestra, and the rousing finale Toy Symphony – as well as commissioned works by Gili Weinberg, a PhD student at the Media Lab; young French composer Jean-Pascal Beintus; and Natasha Sinha, an award-winning 12-year old composer.

Performers will include local children with Music Toys, a children’s choir ‘with voices transformed’, a Hyperviolin played by the Irish virtuoso Cora Venus Lunny in her first US appearances and conductor Gil Rose leading the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, one of the country’s few orchestras dedicated entirely to the performance of contemporary classical music.

The general public will have the chance to try out the Music Toys firsthand while they’re on exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt/Smithsonian Museum from April 23, 2003 through February 2004, as part of the “National Design Triennial”.  And starting in Fall 2003, Music Toys will be available to everyone through Fisher-Price.

In time for the US Toy Symphony events, Machover’s latest CD – his Hyperstring Trilogy – will be launched in April 2003.  Loosely based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, the 70-minute Trilogy is recognized as one of Machover’s most important works.  It comprises three pieces written for orchestra and hyperinstruments (specially designed musical instruments enhanced and expanded using technology, invented by Machover and his team at the Media Lab in 1986).

For more on the overall project, visit; in addition to further information there, you’ll find photos, audio, video, reviews and critical articles, and even Hyperscore software downloads.

September 2003