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Miami Children's Museum Recruits the Creator of the Big Piano

You remember the scene. It's the moment in the famous 1988 flick Big when a 13-year-old wishes he were a grownup and then wakes up in Tom Hanks' adult body. If you've seen it, you surely remember the iconic scene where Hanks plays "Chopsticks" with his feet on a giant piano keyboard laid out on the floor of a toy store. Even if you were an adult, you probably thought to yourself: Damn, that looks fun.

"All the people at the theater for the premiere clapped at that scene."

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When the Miami Children's Museum planned to do a million-dollar restoration of its music section, that very same keyboard came to the mind of executive director Deborah Spiegelman. Sadly, that exact piano from Big was moved from FAO Schwarz to a Macy's in New York, but Spiegelman was able to get in touch with the inventor of that keyboard, Remo Saraceni, and persuaded him to make another one as the centerpiece of the museum's new music section.

A few days before the section opened December 17, Saraceni strolled through the museum, overlooking final pieces of construction as museum staff members tested out the keys with their feet. "Each piece of the piano is custom-made," the Italian-born, Philadelphia-based Saraceni said proudly. "This one is unique to all the others I made. I offered it to this museum because of the beautiful architecture and philosophy of this museum. This is the only museum of this type that teaches music. Hopefully, we'll create future maestros."

While workers hurriedly finished installations that have been conceived and assembled over the past six months, New Times was given a tour of what else the new music section will offer. The long staircase between the first and second floors, already completed, lets out a variety of notes and melodies as visitors walk up each step — a sort of vertical version of the Big piano.

In the Music Makers Studio, synthetic clouds hang from the ceiling, and when patrons walk underneath them, sounds and lights emanate. The section has kept its array of percussion instruments that kids can bang and beat. There are maracas, tambourines, and bongos. New international instruments from all over the world will soon be added.

Spiegelman was most excited about a room still receiving some finishing touches. "Through our partnership with New World Symphony, we've replicated their symphony floor. Images of different instruments are on the floor. Kids can step on the different instruments, from strings to brass and woodwinds, and create different sounds. If a few kids are stepping on different instruments at the same time, they can have their own orchestra. We want to inspire kids to be the next generation that goes to hear a symphony."

Saraceni still vividly remembers when Big's producers called him to ask for permission to use his invention in their movie. "The piano had already been around five years before the movie," he said. "When they wrote the script, they contacted me. I enjoyed it very much. All the people at the theater for the premiere clapped at that scene."

Though the keyboard in Big is slightly different from the one residing in Miami, Saraceni expects people to make use of it just as enthusiastically as the young Tom Hanks once did. "I've seen players from Broadway play Bach and Schubert on it," he remembered. He hopes his inventions can inspire an optimism and wonder in kids. It's a quality that he learned early on in his life — though through much tougher terms than most. "I grew up during the war in Italy," he said. "It made me want to work on technology to help all the barriers between the human spirit break away."

Music Makers Studio

Miami Children's Museum, 980 MacArthur Cswy., Miami; 305-373-5437; Admission costs $15 to $20; free for children under 1 year old and MCM members.

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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novels, The End of the Century and Yo-Yo, are available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland