The Toy Box
by Claude Debussy
arranged by Yoshiko Tsuruta

- live performance with screen projection. -

Original illustrations and texts

Debussy was approached by André Hellé, who had created a ballet scenario based on his children's tale La boîte à joujoux. The theme of childhood in Hellé's story resonated with Debussy, who had already composed a suite called Children's Corner for his seven- year-old daughter. He went on to write the piano score for the ballet. However, unfortunately, the production was delayed and not staged until 1919, after Debussy’s death.

La boîte à joujoux showcases Debussy's distinctive style and includes a variety of allusions and direct influences from other composers, folk and popular music, as well as quotes from his previous compositions, such as Children's Corner. His inventive musical language can be found throughout the piece. Debussy assigned a distinct leitmotif to three main characters in the story - a toy soldier, an attractive doll, and a silly and quarrelsome polichinelle.

The simple three-sided love story is set in a toy shop in Paris, leaving a vague boundary between reality and imagination. The soldier falls in love with the doll, but the polichinelle refuses to let her go. There is a brutal battle that leaves the soldier injured. Polichinelle ultimately gives up on the doll, who then takes care of the wounded soldier. She falls in love with him, and they get married... everything turns out for the best.

This arrangement for a percussion duo uses not only a number of keyboard instruments (two marimbas, vibraphone and glockenspiel) but also a range of other percussion instruments to depict the colorful world of toys.

The performance features screen projections of André Hellé’s illustrations and the text of the story. (translated into English by Justus Rozemond)

André Hellé had lavishly illustrated his original scenario in a charmingly child-like style; Yoshiko used these pictures, along with brief narrative text, in a computer presentation displayed on the projection screen. From cues in their parts, the players could ‘turn the pages’ in synchronisation with the music via five strategically placed, foot-operated switches. Delightful as was this visual element, it was all but eclipsed by the mesmerising musical performance.

This Toy-Box being a work of Debussy’s maturity, he inevitably deployed his unique, specifically pianistic soundworld. Hence, arranging it for (and playing it on) marimba, vibraphone and sundry other percussion presents a huge challenge. From the outset, DS generated a real feeling of enchantment. The ‘keyboard’ percussion (obviously) carried the melodic and harmonic argument, with other instruments used purely for adding touches of colour.

Spellbound as I was by the performance as a whole, my attention was particularly attracted to those mysterious, dreamy episodes (such as Moonlit Night), where Debussy ‘blurs’ his music (the very technique, I suppose, that provoked that ‘impressionist’ tag); these DS rendered entirely idiomatically and with consummate artistry, significantly reducing the expressive gap between piano and ‘keyboard’ percussion.

To my mind, the secret of DS’s success lay largely in a highly sophisticated sense of touch, evident as finely resolved control over an unusually wide dynamic range, which of course was most noticeable at the quiet end. Thus, in the aforementioned ‘dreamy’ episodes, they typically pared down the sound to the merest whisper, merging the struck notes with their accumulating, overlapping resonances. Whether or not this explanation is correct, that was the audible effect, the consequence of refining their instrumental techniques to render them capable of true expressive subtlety. This recital was nothing like what I had expected – instead it was a revelation.

Paul Serotsky, Whangarei, 2023

…What transpired was a truly inspired audio-visual feast; surely the next frontier in concert music and the highlight of the programme. Not only has Tsuruta painstakingly and effectively transcribed Debussy’s piano vignettes for a vast array of percussion instruments, but she has also prepared wonderfully entertaining visual storybook using Andre Halle’s original children’s illustrations and translated text. The final product is magnificent and would instantly appeal to the child in all of us. Tsuruta and Fitzsimons worked tirelessly (and oft in a flurry of focus and cooperation) to bring this story to life…

Chalium Poppy, Tauranga, 2023

Technical Information

35 - 40mins

Setup time: 2.5hours
Pack up time: 2 hours

We are able to make the concert in a suitable length, by adding other pieces.(max. 90mins with an interval)


Two Marimbas
Snare Drum
Suspended Cymbal
Wind gong
Tone Chimes


Projector with HDMI input

Screen for projection
(minimum 1.8m wide)

power to the middle of the stage
(for laptop)

Stage area: 6m(w) x 4m(d)