On our latest visit to Arizona, I found myself exceedingly disappointed by the famous Taliesin West so when we decided to hit up the Musical Instrument Museum, I kept my expectations in check and was rewarded with one of the best museum visits I’ve ever had.
The museum is very new; it’s only a couple years old. It’s housed in a beautiful building that’s worthy of noting with lots of natural lighting and open space. There is a theater on site, where a variety of performances and events are held, and workshops, lectures and educational programming is a regular part of the museum’s mission. This creative space that supports the local arts is noteworthy in and of itself, but once you venture into the museum’s exhibits, you’re definitely in for a treat.
When you pay your entrance fee into the museum, you’re given a wireless headset, which allows you to pick and choose the highlights of the museum that you’d like to learn about. Because this museum is so focused on music, having a million different sounds come from a million different places would be nothing short of chaos, so these headsets allow everyone to create the experience they’d like to have.
The museum is spread across two floors. On the first floor are a variety of rotating and permanent galleries, which give visitors the hands-on opportunity to make music and explore the history and memorabilia behind some of the most famous and interesting musical movements and musicians. I was particularly smitten by one of the massive drums used at the opening ceremony for the 2008 Olympics held in China.
The heart of the Musical Instrument Museum is on the second floor where, true to the institution’s name, there are thousands of musical instruments from around the world. Instruments are organized by parts of the world, so different rooms showcase instruments found in Africa / Middle East, Asia / Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean, United States / Canada and Europe. In each of these there are specific displays set up for each country. Some of countries and regions of the world for which the museum has robust collections have been separated even further into categories for ethnic, tribal and folk music. It’s fairly easy to understand the layout of the museum, so those who want to narrow in directly on a certain region of the world can do so without any issues.
Each country exhibit has a variety of local instruments on display, which range from sticks to rare editions of the world’s finest pianos. It was fascinating looking at what creative things certain cultures have used for musical instruments. These include gas canisters in South Africa, a bull scrotum in Asian Russia, an ox horn in China and snake skin in Taiwan. Many of the displays offer guests the chance to use their wireless devices to hear what the local music sounds like, which is often accompanied by video of dancing, music making or instrument construction.
What I found most fascinating about the Musical Instrument Museum is the fact that, though people may be separated by physical or political boundaries, they share a common artistic culture through music … and this connection has been around for thousands of years. Music from different parts of the world may sound unique to any given country, but the reasons for creating music and the emotion and effort put into this art form are universal.
The Musical Instrument Museum is packed with exhibits and information, and it can be a bit overwhelming, so don’t feel the need to stop and listen to the music for every single country. You could spend all day going through everything in the museum and still not see it all. Likewise, it can get a bit exhausting after awhile when things start to meld together.
My advice is to visit the Musical Instrument Museum if you have any interest in music, and you should get there early so that you have as much time as you need to get through the exhibits. At the very least, you should know that this is a site worth visiting in Phoenix, Arizona.
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