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  • Deborah Kade

Musical Instrument Museum - Phoenix, Arizona


The Musical Instrument Museum, MIM, which opened on April 24, 2010, is the largest museum of its type in the world. The collection of over 15,000 musical instruments and associated objects includes examples from nearly 200 countries and territories, representing every inhabited continent. Some larger countries such as the United States, Mexico, India, China, and Brazil have multiple displays with subsections for different types of ethnic, folk, and tribal music.

There are other museums of musical instruments across the globe, but MIM is unique in that it brings together in one place an expansive collection of instruments from every country. Other musical instrument museums primarily focus on Western instruments, with much less attention paid to those from other areas of the world. MIM’s experience also brings these instruments to life through technology that enables visitors to see and hear these instruments in their original cultural settings, like in no other museum in the world.

The Museum was founded by Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and chairman of Target Corporation. An avid collector of African art and a world museum enthusiast, Ulrich and his friend Marc Felix originated the idea after a visit to the Instrument Museum in Brussels, Belgium. The design of the museum benefited as well from the expert consultation of the Musée de la Musique in Paris modernized in 1997.

MIM’s collection was assembled by five expert curators, with consultation from distinguished ethnomusicologists, organologists, and other field experts. The bulk of the collection is highlighted in Geographic Galleries that focus on five major global regions. There are also exhibition spaces such as the Target Gallery, which hosts traveling and special exhibitions, and the Artist Gallery, which includes noteworthy musical instruments and artifacts associated with some of the world’s leading musicians.

The museum’s collection of more than 13,000 instruments and associated artifacts was acquired in the geographic and cultural regions where these instruments are played and have the most cultural relevance. Approximately 6,600 of these are on exhibit at a time. Some of the instruments in MIM’s collection were, until recently, still being played in their places of origin and were subsequently donated by their makers or the musicians who owned and played them. Some were created by artisans expressly for MIM. Others were purchased from other collectors or collections. The museum’s experts have gone to great lengths to acquire the instruments, sometimes traveling to extremely remote locations and regions of unrest. The instruments were selected for their fine construction, the reputation of their makers, their special provenance, or their connection to significant performers. Instruments and artifacts from MIM’s Geographic Galleries focus on five major global regions: Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Oceania, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States and Canada.

The contemporary building covers approximately 200,000 square-feet, with two floors of light-filled galleries. Built at a cost of over $250 million, MIM creates an exciting musical experience for visitors. MIM was designed by award‐winning architect Rich Varda, in conjunction with the Minneapolis and Phoenix firm of RSP Architects. MIM’s distinctive architecture evokes the topography of the Southwest. Its materials and patterns pay homage to the desert landscape, to the rhythms of musical composition, and to the familiar details common to musical instruments from around the world. Indian sandstone is the primary element on the building’s dynamic façade. MIM’s lobby is light filled and fluid in form. Guests are linked to all the galleries through a spacious main corridor that conjures up the lyrical forms of music and graceful musical instruments. Likewise, patterns on the floors, walls, and ceilings suggest the geological striations of the Arizona landscape, the rhythms of musical composition, and designs and shapes common to musical instruments.

Most displays are enhanced by state-of-the-art audio and video technologies that allow guests to see the instruments, hear their sounds, and observe them being played in their original contexts—performances that are often as spectacular as the instruments themselves. Wireless “hot spots” around MIM provide loops of streamed music, immersing guests in the sounds of musical instruments. Guests are given wireless headsets to wear throughout the museum. As they approach each display, they will hear music and see the instruments being played on high-resolution flat screens. The wireless audio system is user-friendly for guests of all ages.

The facility contains a 299-seat theater for concerts, which are held primarily after regular hours.

Joshua Bell recorded his album "French Impressions" in the theater in 2011.

The Layout

GROUND FLOOR:

  • The Artist Gallery - Instruments, video concert footage, photographs, performance outfits, and other special items linked to world-renowned musicians and music innovators. The gallery currently includes exhibits for musical icons such as Elvis Presley, Pablo Casals, John Lennon, King Sunny Adé, Taylor Swift, and many others from around the world.

  • The Experience Gallery - MIM’s unique Experience Gallery invites guests of all ages to touch, play, and hear a changing array of instruments from many different cultures. Guests do more than have fun trying their hand at new instruments. They participate in music being dramatically brought to life.

  • The Mechanical Music Gallery - MIM’s Mechanical Music Gallery features a selection of musical instruments such as player pianos, mechanical zithers, and cylinder music boxes that, by definition, “play themselves.”

  • The Target Gallery - The Target Gallery complements the museum’s permanent collection with exciting and informative traveling shows, special engagements, and changing exhibitions.

  • The Conservation Lab - Seen through a large viewing window, MIM’s Conservation Lab gives guests a behind-the-scenes glimpse at collection maintenance and preservation.

  • Café Allegro - Café Allegro serves a daily-changing menu of foods prepared from scratch, using fresh, local ingredients. Stations feature global cuisine, local and regional dishes, grilled specialties, freshly made soups and salads, and delicious desserts.

  • Museum Store - The Museum Store is open daily to the public during museum hours and offers gift cards, a great selection of books and CDs, instruments, handmade gifts, and more!

  • MIM Music Theater - This world-class concert hall offers an exciting array of concerts by artists from every corner of the globe.

UPPER LEVEL: MIM’s collection is presented in Geographical Galleries that focus on five major world regions. These are:

  • The Africa and Middle East gallery, which displays instruments and artifacts from sub-Saharan, North African, and Middle Eastern nations.

  • The Asia and Oceania gallery, which features instruments from countries and island groups in five sub-galleries devoted to regions of East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and Central Asia and the Caucasus.

  • The Europe gallery, where guests encounter instruments ranging from an antique charter horn and a foot-operated drum kit to a child’s vessel flute.

  • The Latin America gallery, which features instruments and ensembles displayed in three sub-galleries: South America; Central America and Mexico; and the Caribbean.

  • The United States/Canada gallery, where guests can observe the diverse array of instruments that shaped the North American musical landscape, including the Appalachian dulcimer, sousaphone, ukulele, and electric guitar. Special exhibits focus on iconic American musical-instrument manufacturers, including Fender, Martin, and Steinway.

This was the first time visiting MIM and I barely scratched the surface in seeing the exhibits. Our cousins, Abby and Katie, from Wisconsin were visiting. The girls are musicians so I thought this museum might be of interest to them. Here are just a few pictures to get you interested and excited about visiting on your own.

We viewed the special exhibit : Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China: Harmony of the Ancients from the Henan Museum presents extraordinary musical and archaeological treasures spanning nine thousand years of Chinese music and history. It was quite amazing.

Presented in partnership with the prestigious Henan Museum, MIM’s exhibition explores the harmony between music, people, heaven, and earth through more than sixty extremely rare instruments and artworks on display for the first time in the United States. This is the only museum in the United States that will host this exhibit.

Ancient flutes and drums harken back to the dawn of Chinese civilization, giving us a glimpse of the musical life of an early agrarian society. Grand racks of bronze bells evoke elaborate rituals performed during the formative years of Chinese culture. Lively ceramic figures illustrate the joyful mixing of cultures during the time of the legendary Silk Road. Elegant silk strings entertain gatherings of refined music lovers and inspire poetic contemplation.

In addition to a collection of exquisite musical instruments, the exhibition also features beautiful music-related artworks made of materials such as ceramic and jade. Many of these instruments and artworks were excavated from tombs of nobility. Highlights of the exhibition include:

Bone flute, 7000 – 5000 BCE (approximately 7,000–9,000 years ago) This flute comes from a collection of several flutes that were excavated from the Peiligang burial sites and are collectively the oldest musical instruments in China. Crafted from the bone of a stork, this flute is precisely tuned to a five-note (pentatonic) scale, indicating a highly developed music system.


Bianzhong bell chime, Spring and Autumn period, 770 – 476 BCE (approximately 2,500–2,800 years ago)
 This set of twenty-four bells from the court of a duke of Zheng State illustrates the extravagance of noble families and is one of only ten surviving sets made in the latter half of the Zhou dynasty to play a flashy new style of music developed known as zhengsheng. Each bell—among four bo bass bells and twenty niu—was specially crafted to produce two distinct musical tones.


Bronze “divine beast” drum stand, Spring and Autumn period, 770 – 476 BCE (approximately 2,500–2,800 years ago) Full-bodied depictions of mythical beasts are exceptionally rare, and this drum stand example is one of the finest uncovered to date. Malachite has been inlaid into the bronze body in phoenix and dragon patterns; many of the beast’s features are made up of small dragons and its face is framed by two persimmon flowers.



Tricolor-glazed pillow depicting scholarly qin performance, Northern Song dynasty, 960 – 1127 (approximately 890–1,060 years ago) The multicolored decoration on this ceramic pillow illustrates two Confucian scholars in a manicured garden; one plays the qin while the other listens. The ability to play and appreciate the qin and its repertoire was described as one of the most important virtues that should be possessed by Confucian scholars, and its performance was meant to be shared privately among friends.


Musician and dancer figurines in a pavilion, Han dynasty, 206 BCE – 220 CE (approximately 1,800–2,200 years ago) This unusual three-story tower houses an ensemble of musicians and dancers for the nobleman’s entertainment, as well as a complement of guards armed with crossbows. Many Han tombs included ceramic models of the palatial homes that deceased noblemen wished to inhabit in the afterlife.






Ceramic drum, Yangshao culture, 5000 – 3000 BCE (approximately 5,000–7,000 years ago) Ceramic drums such as this are some of the most characteristic instruments used by the Neolithic Yangshao people. The drum would have had a membrane made from animal skin stretched across the large opening and held tight by the hooks around the rim.












Some pictures from the Artists Gallery.

Elvis Presley section.







Toby Keith





Roy Orbison

Who can forget the film Pretty Woman and its memorable theme song. The film is a 1990 American romantic comedy directed by Garry Marshall from a screenplay by J. F. Lawton. The film stars Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, and features Hector Elizondo, Ralph Bellamy (in his final performance), Laura San Giacomo, and Jason Alexander in supporting roles. Its story centers on down-on-her-luck Hollywood hooker Vivian Ward, who is hired by Edward Lewis, a wealthy businessman, to be his escort for several business and social functions, and their developing relationship over the course of her week-long stay with him.




Taylor Swift




John Lennon



Mechanical Music Gallery

MIM’s Mechanical Music Gallery features a selection of musical instruments such as player pianos, mechanical zithers, and cylinder music boxes that, by definition, “play themselves.”

The period between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, known as the Golden Age of Mechanical Music, saw the creation of a remarkable range of self-playing instruments in Europe and the Americas. MIM’s Mechanical Music Gallery highlights a range of mechanical instrument types and technologies from this era, including artistic examples that feature animated components such as human and animal figures.












The Experience Gallery

The Experience Gallery is open to all guests who want to play musical instruments from around the world. Guests do more than have fun trying their hand at new instruments. They participate in music being dramatically brought to life.







Conservation Lab

Seen through a large viewing window, MIM’s Conservation Lab gives guests a behind-the-scenes glimpse at collection maintenance and preservation.

MIM conserves instruments and music-related artifacts to ensure their structural integrity and preservation for future generations. Conservation work includes careful testing and documentation of various methods for stabilizing, preserving, and restoring objects made of a wide variety of materials including woods, metals, bone, hides, and plastics. This research is significant for the broader field of museum conservation and helps to inform the treatment of ethnographic and anthropological collections in museums around the world.


Geographic Galleries

TRAVEL THE WORLD THROUGH MUSIC

Enter the Musical Instrument Museum and embark on a musical journey around the globe. MIM’s collection is presented in Geographic Galleries that focus on five major world regions.

The Africa and Middle East Gallery, which displays instruments and artifacts from sub-Saharan, North African, and Middle Eastern nations.





















The Asia and Oceania Gallery, which features instruments from countries and island groups in five sub-galleries devoted to regions of East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and Central Asia and the Caucasus.
















The Latin America Gallery, which features instruments and ensembles displayed in three sub-galleries: South America, Central America and Mexico, and the Caribbean.
















The United States / Canada Gallery, where guests can observe the diverse array of instruments that shaped the North American musical landscape, including the Appalachian dulcimer, sousaphone, ukulele, and electric guitar. Special exhibits focus on iconic American musical-instrument manufacturers such as Martin and Steinway.




















The Europe Gallery, where guests encounter instruments ranging from an antique charter horn and a foot-operated drum kit to a child’s vessel flute.




One of the museum guides saw I was taking pictures. She asked if I had taken a picture of the fiddle used in the final Harry Potter movie. It is one of the displays the guides point out - especially to children whom are Harry Potter fans. Now I have to go back and see the movie again to locate the fiddle.

















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