Musical Instrument Museum
one of the best museums I’ve ever visited
Over the Thanksgiving holiday my parents came to Scottsdale for a visit. Unlike last Christmas when they came, none of us got severely sick, so we were able to go and enjoy some of the wonderful things the area has to offer including one of the best museums I’ve ever visited – The Musical Instrument Museum.
Located just south of highway 101 at Tatum in north Phoenix is a beautiful sandstone building locally known as the MIM. I had heard about it, but hadn’t been because of the ticket price ($18 for adults). I didn’t really understand how awesome this place is and that it is completely worth the admission cost.
First word of advice for visiting this museum, don’t plan on just a few hours. Even if you don’t read all of the plaques or other multi-media displays, you will want most of the day to explore the tribute to music all over the world. We thought that a few hours would be sufficient and ran out of time to finish – not even planning to visit their special exhibit.
When you purchase your ticket, you will be given an audio headset (included in your admission) to enhance your experience. After passing a gallery with a few dozen different styles of guitars from around the world, you enter the welcome hall with just a glimpse of what you will see in the other galleries. Watch the orientation video to understand the museum’s purpose and get a little misty eyed.
Most of the exhibits are upstairs where the world galleries are. My mom would say don’t start with Africa, but I would beg to differ. Start with Africa and its dozens of countries, each with unique culture, musical traditions and instruments.
Most of the exhibits are in fact musical instruments; after all it is the Musical Instrument Museum. If it were just instruments to look at, you might get really uninterested real fast, but they have audio-visual displays at each exhibit with a handful of videos demonstrating the instruments and dances of the country’s instruments you’re looking at. There are also examples of costumes and more.
The have divided the museum into regions that you progress through as you move forward. One of the most interesting things is seeing and hearing how music crosses borders, religions and ethnicities all around the world and how some different cultures have been influenced by others to find their county’s signature sounds and instruments.
I personally enjoyed the Middle East and Middle Asia sections. However, I didn’t have time to make it through much of South America, Europe of North America. Other interesting things I noticed about the exhibits:
- There were no instruments from North Korea, but they had an empty display space with a TV monitor showing a few dances from the country.
- They chose to call Myanmar by its former name of Burma, but yet they made a special distinction between North and South Sudan.
- They must have a good connection or strong affinity for Indonesian gamelan since a very big section was devoted to this fascinating Asian music tradition.
- Some of my favorite instruments were the ones that people used unusual materials to make such as recycled instruments and a set of “brass” made from bamboo
Occasionally there were displays of a certain type of instrument that has many variations such as the harmonica, accordion and banjo. Once you entered the Europe and North America rooms you start to see more emphasis on instrument makers. The North America gallery is one of the larger and is fantastic. I wish I had more time to explore it.
In this space one of my favorite displays was the deconstructed Steinway piano. Floating there in the display are all of the parts and how they all go together to make these magnificent instruments. This gallery is also where you start to find specific artists highlighted like Alice Cooper, who I guess is from Phoenix.
Downstairs there are a few more outstanding gallery spaces. The first one you’ll see at the bottom of the spiral stairs is the Artist Gallery, which, as the name suggests, is about musical artists and their instruments. There are displays about Elvis, Taylor Swift, microphones used by pop stars, the Beatles, Carlos Santana, the original Steinway piano, Eric Clapton, and many more.
My favorite display in this space wasn’t a particular artist, but rather an instrument. They have one of the drums used at the beginning of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremonies. I loved that production and love the productions that open and close the Olympic Games. As you know attending these is on my bucket list. Anyway, I got goose bumps all over again when I watched the video with the drum.
Next to this gallery is a space with automated instruments such as player pianos, large music boxes, mechanical birds and larger automated bands used in dance halls of years gone by.
Besides the special exhibit gallery, which was highlighting Women Who Rock when we were there (a teaser of the exhibit was Lady Gaga’s first piano), and a window into their conservation lab, the last gallery is a hands-on space with a selection of instruments you saw upstairs available to try out. Everyone feels like a kid when they can play haphazardly with peculiar and new musical instruments. There is a small gamelan set, many percussion pieces and a large gong that you can smack with the mallet. Go with friends and be ready to have some fun!
The only thing I really wish they would add would be some of the more modern examples of cultural music throughout the world and how music is still morphing with influences from other parts of the world. They could do this by including a few of the more popular artists in the country displays to show how the music in those lands has evolved over time.
The museum also has a couple of concert spaces, café and gift shop. I would highly recommend a visit when in the Valley of the Sun.
Music brings the world together and is often called the universal language. I’ve seen this first hand as I’ve traveled the world with different musical groups. No matter the language of those performing and those listening, music conveys emotions we all feel as members of the human race. Music can bring people together, unite us in a common cause and help us celebrate or mourn when needed. Without music life would be dull and boring.
Remember, adventure is out there! So, go have one!