Daily Archives: December 4, 2011

A Must See: the Musical Instrument Museum

I’m not a musician and I don’t consider myself a big music fan, so I wasn’t sure it was going to be worth the money to visit the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Jay’s mom had been and told us we HAD TO GO.  They were giving free admission for Bank of America cardholders (which Jay is) so we decided to check it out.

As much as the museum is about music, it is also about history.  The piano above was the first ever Steinway made.   Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (who anglicized his name), built it in his kitchen!  Now of course Steinway is a household name.  There is one built in 1904 in the front entrance way at Riordan Mansion (where I used to volunteer) that was given as a welcome home gift from Timothy to his wife Caroline.  The university I went to, James Madison, had a well regarded music program that had all Steinway pianos.  MIM had many other pianos on display, including a GI piano that was especially made to transport to the battle lines in World War II.

As much as the museum is about musical instruments, it is also about culture and geography.  The second level is laid out by regions and almost every single country has a small section showing instruments from their heritage.  Most displays include a video of someone from that culture playing the instrument so you can see it in context.  They also include a map that shows where that country is located.  This turns out to be an amazing way to learn geography and start to see how countries have influenced one another’s cultures throughout history.  For example, Bolivia stands out for having more instruments of European origin which were introduced by missionaries.  They blended European instruments and native instruments to perform religious ceremonies.  Some cultures resisted outside influence, adapting their own instruments so they would not be banned or taken by a colonizer.  Since the instruments are shown beside videos you also get to see singing, dancing, and costumes from that region.

For me, this museum also showed the universality of the human experience.  As I watched a video from Asia of a little girl learning to drum surrounded by her relatives I was touched by how much it reminded me of the last time I was home.  My two year old cousin Samantha was jamming on a drum like the one above with my Uncle Steve.  My uncle, Steve Bloom, is a very accomplished percussionist and I grew up watching him play and getting to see different drums.  Recently, my dad, John Tewksbury, has taken an interest in drum making.  As an acoustical engineer he has been very successful at making drums like the one shown above.  The drum above was in the Experience Gallery at the museum.  It’s a very noisy room where everyone is getting to try out the musical instruments.  I was so excited to have that familiar experience of sitting on the drum and starting to play.  I know that Steve would absolutely LOVE this museum, but I really think that everyone can enjoy what it has to offer.  I hope you will check it out.

Below is a video from last Christmas of my uncle Steve and his son Dan playing the drums that my dad made.  My cousin Natalia also makes an appearance in the video – my dad made her a mini version of the same drum, but she hadn’t learned to play it yet.