Monday, April 2, 2012

A Trip to a Musical Museum

A short distance from my host's home is an institution opened within the last couple of years. It is a museum housing a collection of musical instruments called, appropriately, The Musical Museum.

As you enter, you are provided with headsets like those used in any other museum exhibition where a spoken guide would enhance the experience. Instruments from around the world, separated by country, including several places that I was only vaguely aware of, are displayed around video screens. As you approach each display you hear, through the headphones, the music being played in the videos on the screen., The video segments are short and vary widely. In one countries segment you might view musical performances from an ornate concert hall, a small restaurant or club and then villagers playing together in a farmyard. A segment from one of the former Soviet republics features a group of adults, in what appears to be a room in  a modest home, playing various instruments while a very young girl sings in her native tongue. Her youth and innocence bring unique depth and beauty to the song even though I could not understand the words. In another a collection of drums of varying sizes are attached to the inside of an elaborately carved circle of gilded wood grillwork. A musician, standing in the middle of the circle, plays the drums hanging therein.

The instruments range from crude affairs of raw wood and string, some are created using discarded tin cans, to exquisitely painted and inlaid European pieces centuries old. There are also electronic musical inventions on display including an early Moog synthesizer.

Fancifully carved animals with notched backs transform the simple musical concept of a scraper into high art. I was overwhelmed by the variety and types of instruments I saw and the sounds they produced.

Music making is a trait shared by all mankind. Judging from the ingenuity and craftsmanship required to produce these objects, even under the most harsh circumstances, it seems almost as necessary to our existence as water, food or air.

I was awestruck by the physical beauty of the objects, from the crudely carved animal face on the neck of a primitive stringed instrument to the elaborate and rich inlaid wood design of another. The artistry involved in the creation of each piece matching the artistry of the musician that plays it.

On the first floor are other exhibits focusing more on musical artists than musical instruments. An ample exhibit on Elvis (no last name necessary) features videos of him performing, album covers, two of his famous, wildly decorated verging on tacky jumpsuits and, on loan, his army jacket from his days in the military. Another exhibit on The Police features, aside from videos of them performing, a stage outfit worn by the tiny, judging from the outfits diminutive size, Andy Summers. Gold records from various artists are displayed, as are several Grammy awards, which are much larger then I thought.

There is a glass walled lab where visitors are able to watch workers involved in the conservation of the pieces in the museums collection. Past a beautiful, skylit map of the world inlaid on the floor, the continents created using various colored stones, is a gallery devoted to pieces that can be touched and experienced hands on by visitors. This allows children to play and adults go play like children. My host seemed to greatly enjoy his turn at banging the gong (sounds like a euphemism, doesn't it) hanging there.

In the museum store I purchased 3 Cd's by Putamayo productions. 2 for myself and 1 as a birthday gift for my just turned 8 year old niece. They are a favorite musical discovery of mine. They compile music from around the world and issue it on theme based, i.e. Cuban music, Brazilian Music, South African music, collections. Their web site, is well worth a visit. 1 minute previews of each song on the various Cd's can be sampled prior to purchasing. A smaller portion of their collection is available in an MP3 format. No I am not paid by them, I just like them a whole, whole lot!

If you find yourself in Phoenix on a day with hostile or uncooperative weather this is a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours of it.

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