Sparky was portrayed in the first three episodes in the series by Henry Blair, but was later voiced by Lee LeDoux and June Foray. The series was produced by Alan Livingston with orchestration by Billy May. The piano pieces on Sparky’s Magic Piano were performed by Ray Turner. The voice of the piano was generated by Sonovox, an early version of the talk box. The series also featured many voices familiar to fans of Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons, as well as notable Capitol music artists, such as Stan Kenton.
Sparky albums were originally released on standard shellac 10-inch 78 RPM records, usually with three discs in each album and sold in the book-like covers, whence the term “album” originates. These six-sided record albums had a total playing time of about 20 minutes. In later years, the series was reissued on vinyl 78, 45, LP, and CD.
Sparky’s Magic Piano was the most popular album in the series. It is one of the few children’s albums of the period to remain available. Therefore the original 78s have a relatively low collectors’ value. However it is not easy to acquire a complete set of the original wax records. The wax records are distinguishable by their black Capitol labels. Vinyl 78 versions are more common, with purple Capitol labels and sometimes a “Bozo Approved” logo in the corner of the album cover.
The unusual popularity of Sparky’s Magic Piano can be attributed to the fact that the album is not only an excellent work of children’s fantasy; it also has a useful moral that was inspirational to any child practising a musical instrument or studying classical music. Thus the album is a practical teaching tool as well as entertainment.
Because of the success of Sparky’s Magic Piano, two of the subsequent Sparky albums (Sparky’s Music Mix-up and Sparky’s Magic Baton) also involved talking musical instruments giving lessons for music students. Therefore the series seems to have taken a different direction to that which may have been originally intended. (The first album about talking trains was not musical, and was more dramatic than educational.)
Sparky’s Magic Piano is the second in a series of children’s audio stories featuring Sparky, an original character created for Capitol Records in 1947. (Sparky also appeared in comic books as a sidekick to Capitol’s other famous creation, Bozo The Clown.) Sparky is a little boy with an overactive imagination. His adventures involve objects which magically come to life and talk to him.
Sparky is a young child who hates practising the piano. One day, when he expresses his dislike for practising, the piano talks to him, and tells him that he will show him what it is like to play the piano well, and that all Sparky has to do is run his fingers over the keys, and the piano will play whatever Sparky chooses. Sparky then amazes his mother with his playing, and she calls his piano teacher. The two adults decide to book concerts across the country, with Sparky as a solo pianist. Sparky insists that he must take his own piano with him to all his concerts, and his mother agrees. But the piano will play for Sparky only for a limited time, and this time runs out during a concert. Sparky begs the piano to play, but it does not respond, and Sparky is reduced to banging helplessly on the keys. He hears his mother calling him, and he awakens and finds himself at home. It then becomes apparent to the listener, and to Sparky, that the entire experience was a dream. But it has given Sparky a new appreciation of the piano, and he vows to keep practising until he can play as well as he did in his dream.
The following are the piano works which appear in Sparky’s Magic Piano in the order in which they appear in the story.
Léonard Gautier – The Secret
Chopin – Waltz in E minor, Opus posth.
Chopin – Etude in C minor (“Revolutionary”), Opus 10 number 12
Rimsky-Korsakov (adapted from the arrangement by J. Strimer) – The Flight of the Bumblebee (electronically played at
Chopin – Etude in C sharp minor, Opus 10 number 4
Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2, in C sharp minor (excerpt from the end of the piece, arranged for piano and
Beethoven – Piano Sonata number 14 (“Moonlight”) in C sharp minor, Opus 27 number 2 (excerpt from the 1st mvt,
arranged for piano and orchestra)
Chopin – Waltz in C sharp minor, Opus 64 number 2 (excerpt)
Rachmaninov – Prelude in C sharp minor, Opus 3 number 2 (truncated, and arranged for piano and orchestra)
Mendelssohn – “The Spinning Song” (from Song Without Words), Opus 67 number 4 (announced by Sparky, but the piano
refuses to play it, so the music is not heard)