Thursday, April 4, 2013

Musical Instrument Museum: Phoenix, AZ

After my conference ended mid-day, I had a couple of hours to kill before heading to the airport and home.  Returning from another outing earlier in the week I passed a road sign for the Musical Instrument Museum.  It was a plain green sign with white letters and a single arrow pointing the way.  The plainness of the sign kept my expectations low and I expected to arrive at some sad little place with a few guitars allegedly played by some famous or not-so-famous people.  I was really, really wrong.

The MIM is a real honest-to-goodness museum with nicely landscaped entrance complete with water feature, marble floors and an $18 entrance fee for an adult.  This gives you unlimited access to all of the displays - of which there are several - and a headset for the audio portion.  This is not an audio tour as you don't walk from place to place listening to narration.  Rather, as you enter an area and stand near the designated area, music plays.  The best part about this is that you don't end up with huge clumps of people silently following each other around the museum from 1 to 2 to 3 and so on.  You can go wherever you like.  If one display is crowded, no problem, skip it and come back. (The people at Alcatraz could learn something from whoever created the audio here.)

I warn you now, this is a photo heavy post.  There is no other way to do this.

The museum has 2 floors and I started on the upper floor where there are large rooms separated in to the continents.

Each room is labeled at the top so there is no guessing.  As you wander through that room, there are smaller areas dedicated to a particular country or region.

Here is the display for Italy (clearly in the Europe room, not Asia, wander with me folks).  Each is marked with the name and a map for those who are geographically challenged (like my husband, David).  All of the displays have instruments common to the area.

Each is clearly labeled like this 'Ud or plucked lute and most told the approximate date and the materials the instrument is made of.

Most of the displays also had a television monitor and this is where your headphones come in.  If you walk up, it will start playing for you.  Walk away and it fades.  These were far enough apart that you didn't accidentally pick up more than one or have them coming in and out as you walked by.

There is a small plaque that tells you what you are listening to.  As each short segment begins, the letter flashes on the screen so you can compare it to the legend.  Sometimes this is really handy.

Sometimes it isn't. 
I still don't know how the guy with the handlebar mustache made it into this video.

This one did explain that these women are creating music simply by slapping the water in a rhythm.

The instruments on display are as varied as the countries.

Some are really big.

Some are really small.

Some were very ornate.

Others were crudely made.

Some were simply found objects.

And a few I had a hard time figuring out how you would even play them.

A surprising number looked like animals.

This is one of my favorites.

In addition to the instruments, there were other items related to music such as ceremonial dance costumes and art work.

The mannequins they use are very realistic in some of the displays.  His spear is very intimidating.

A Chinese Lion Dance Costume.  This costume requires two people, "one at the lion's head; the other at its rear".  Should I ever be called upon to perform a lion dance, I will not be the one in the rear.

Like the instruments, many of these are animal based.

These were made of goat hair and I promise you will never catch me wearing anything remotely like this.  Too hot and way too itchy looking.  I get upset wearing cotton t-shirts with sleeves.

More itchy hair.

More hair and a mask from the Silence of the Lambs prop room.

Now, this I would wear.

I have been telling David that I want a faux taxidermy head for my new house and this one is PERFECT.  I sent him this photo and he said he was on board (but he frequently lies to maintain his marriage). The museum, however, refused to part with it.

Back on the ground floor you wander through more rooms only this time, it isn't countries.

There is one room dedicated to just guitars in all shapes and sizes.

This one was my favorite.

Another room is dedicated to organs and there are photographs of some famous cathedrals here.

There is an area dedicated to Steinway with this awesome display of an exploded piano.

More areas are genre specific.

Or artist specific.  And the artists were as varied as everything else here.

John Denver's area was small.

Taylor Swift (no surprise) had a pretty large display, there is more on the other side of that bell.

Drums from the Black Eyed Peas.

Some composers were also featured.

I also found more of what could be classified as ceremonial dance costumes.

A jacket worn by country music's Buck Owens.

And several items from Elvis.  My parents took me to see Elvis in concert when I was a little girl, my first concert ever.  I learned from this display that Charro was filmed in Apache Junction, the same city where I managed to miss the boat a few days ago.  Charro was never my favorite Elvis movie, I am partial to Girl Happy.

There is a cafĂ© here but I can't vouch for the food as I didn't eat but it was large and clean and there are some outdoor tables if you find yourself here on a nice day.  There is a very nice room set up for parents with small children where they can go and change diapers, feed their babies or let them wander around for a bit without worrying about the safety of the child or the displays.  There is also a room where you can try out some of the instruments.

Here I am with some kind of flute.  No really, that's me.

As an empty-nester, this room was like hell on earth to me. 
Loud and chaotic with lots of kids running everywhere. 
Much like my 30's.

Across the hall there is a conservation lab where you can watch them restore and care for the instruments.

And the requisite gift shop - which you are happily NOT forced to enter as you are in some museums - where I considered the purchase of this Elvis Matryoshka (nesting dolls).  Ultimately I purchased two bath toys for my granddaughters.  They are flutes that change sound depending on how much water you add.

I am not musically inclined and I never played an instrument but I still found this museum very interesting and totally worth the $18 entrance fee.  I actually moved pretty quickly and didn't stop at every single display and I was still there two hours.  The museum also hosts concerts and workshops which I would absolutely do if I lived in Phoenix.

Because really, who doesn't want to Bang a Gong?

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