The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona offers a look at the history of musical instruments from over 200 countries around the world. The interactive collection of instruments tells a story of musicians, instrument makers, recording studios, and musical traditions significant to our shared past, present, and future.
In 2012, the museum has a special focus on American Music. Specifically: music tagged to Arizona. A new exhibit includes artifacts, photographs, and audiovisual content designed to bring the subjects to life and ignite interest in the global, binding nature of music.
Some noteworthy objects in the I Am AZ Music exhibition include the gold dress worn by singer Jordin Sparks during the American Idol finale, instruments played by the Gin Blossoms and a double-neck guitar played by Duane Eddy on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” in 1960.
Typical of the past/present/future focus of the exhibit is an exact replica of a stage suit worn by rocker Alice Cooper in the 1970s, then also worn during the filming of Dark Shadows, a film slated to be released this year.
Also part of I Am AZ Music is an exhibit on Canyon Records, founded more than 60 years ago by Phoenix media pioneers Ray and Mary Boley, that highlights the production and distribution of Native American music. Another exhibit is dedicated to Floyd Ramsey, whose music studio hosted sessions in the 1950s by Duane Eddy, Waylon Jennings, Wayne Newton, and Alice Cooper.”Country fans will enjoy our tributes to Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings, while jazz enthusiasts are sure to love the exhibit centered on Russell ‘Big Chief’ Moore, a member of the Gila River Indian Community who played trombone with Louis Armstrong” said MIM curator Cullen Strawn.
Musical instrument manufacturers of today that make Arizona their home are also featured, such as the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, Navajo-Ute flute maker Aaron White, Yaqui drum and rattle maker Alex Maldonado, White Mountain Banjo Works, Phoenix Guitar Company, classical guitar maker Brian Dunn, and Apache fiddle maker Anthony Belvado.
To make the exhibit interactive, visitors are given wireless headsets to wear throughout the museum. Approaching each display, they can hear the instruments being played, either solo or as an ensemble. Audio and video clips familiarize guests with the unique sounds of each musical culture, allowing them to “share a common experience”, very much the global theme of the Musical Instrument Museum, brought down to local, street level.
“Somewhere, out there, on the farthest rim of the earth, a sound wails into the night” begins this short video from the museum proposing that “from our first breath music is the instrument of the soul”.
The museum is also opening an African Piano exhibit in February that will examine the sanza and its musical tradition among Central and East African story tellers, historians and ceremonial or ritual experts.
Photos courtesy Musical Instrument Museum