Being such a fan of musical instruments and their histories, I have to admit I was excited to visit the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), which opened on April 24 in Phoenix. But before I attended the opening of the MIM, I had questions in my mind. How do you construct a museum and its exhibits to represent more than 10,000 instruments from all over the world?
This was the big question with which the Curatorial Council was faced five years ago. They gathered top curators from some of the musical instrument museums, including Gary Sturm, Chairman of the Musical Instrument Division of the Smithsonian Institution. The Curatorial Council, which included musical instrument curators from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Music Museum and The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, has great minds to help organize, exhibit and preserve musical instruments. Should the instruments be set up alphabetically or by family of instruments? The decision was made to set them up by continent. Even that was hard. Musicians travel and perform all over the world and makers construct with materials they have on hand. An instrument can first be made on one continent and then evolve when it is re-created on another continent. Musical instruments evolve as industries—and man—evolve. At the top of the curator’s list was a need for a proper load-in area. There must be a library and, importantly, a conservancy lab. Temperature, humidity and lighting must be at particular levels. People needed to be hired who possess knowledge of what it takes to maintain and conserve the instruments. This was done correctly at the MIM, except I am concerned with the openness to air and light when the instruments are displayed. It is great to view them so accessibly, but deterioration will happen. That is where I hope the conservancy lab and staff will routinely maintain them. What I observed was the general public seemed to have a respect for not reaching out and touching the instruments, which can clearly be a challenge at other museums.
The natural stone on the exterior of the building blends nicely with its surroundings of desert life. The inside architecture curves you through an easy flow from gallery to gallery. Once inside a gallery, the audio tour on your headset smoothly transitions from one display to the next without the need of pushing a button. As you approach instruments, you hear the sounds, and enjoy the images on flat-screen televisions, of people performing those types of instruments. You can now see the instruments and hear their sounds and rhythms to help understand the people of that end of the world. What caught my eye was how many similarities between instruments there were from country to country. I noticed how many guitar-like instruments, or how many similarly shaped flute-like instruments, there were.
The admission price is $15 with discounts for seniors and students. Children younger than six are free. There is talk of having a day that is free to the public. Some feel museums should be available for everyone to enjoy, not just the middle and upper class. MIM includes a 299-seat concert hall for performance concerts. A concert series is already underway. MIM is booking a variety of cultural performances representing musicians from diverse backgrounds: a Tex-Mex group; performances of the blues, gospel, rock, folk and world music; Native American; and Navajo-Ute. R. Carlos Nakai performed on Native American flute, for example. The concert prices range from $25 to $45. The acoustics in the theater were on display with a Steinway & Sons grand piano playing on its own with the use of Piano Disc technology. MIM houses a total of 190,000 square feet on two floors with 75,000 square feet of exhibition space. There is room to expand. The library is underway and the materials will be available for research.
NAMM, D’Addario, Fender, Martin, Gretsch, Gibson and other music product manufacturers are represented in the USA section, as are blues and jazz artists. There is an “Artist Gallery” where instruments from celebrity musicians are on display. There is a “Family Room” for children and their parents to become interactive with instruments. A fun handout was provided for children to help hold their interest while they view instruments. An entire room was dedicated to Automatic Musical Instruments (musical instruments performed with the help of motors encased in wooden cabinets).
Down the Road
So what is the future of MIM? What are its goals? The future will include tours by educational groups, films, workshops on building instruments and an effort to collect many more instruments, according to Alan Di Perna, MIM media representative. He also said NAMM’s Museum of Making Music’s Director, Carolyn Grant, has been generous by sharing the video archives that Dan Del Fiorentino has compiled over the past 10 years.
Di Perna is not new to the music products industry. He worked on industry trade magazines and authored the book Fender Classic Moments. Many of the staff members at MIM have a music background.
So you might be wondering how MIM is different from NAMM’s Museum of Making Music. MIM does not exclusively represent the music products industry, as NAMM’s museum does. MIM is there for the general public to expose them to musical instruments that the majority have never seen before. MIM is not supposed to be as historically correct as the Smithsonian is.
Another question is this: Why build MIM in Arizona? Since Arizona is the fastest-growing state in the country, and the Phoenix area is the fastest-growing part of the state, there were financial and corporate incentives to build the $250 million project there.
MIM calls itself “The World’s First Global Music Instrument Museum.” MIM is located on 4725 East Mayo Blvd. For more, visit www.themim.org.
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