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Playing Around at the Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix

UPDATE: The Musical Instrument Museum has been honored with a TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award as one of the top museums in the U.S.

The Steinway piano on which John Lennon composed “Imagine” is on display at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. So are guitars played by Johnny Cash, Carlos Santana and Adam Levine. And one of the enormous drums played at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They are among the nearly 16,000 musical instruments and related artifacts in the museum’s vast collection.

Entrance to the Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix.

Other music-oriented museums exist, but the MIM calls itself the World’s Only Global Musical Instrument Museum. I won’t disagree. Diverse genres–ethnic to classical and tribal to rock–from more than 200 countries and territories are represented. Even if you’re not a regular museum-goer, the MIM is sure to entertain. The key to an immersive and exciting experience is the advanced wireless technology and wireless headsets that seamless transition the flow of music as you stroll from one display to another.

The greatest portion of the collection is highlighted in the Geographic Galleries, which 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. High quality audio and video recordings clearly reveal the instruments and music within their cultural contexts. It’s easy to see how connected mankind and womankind are through the expression of sound and movement. Joyous, too.

In addition, topical displays are devoted to specific interests such as the Recycled Orchestra and the making of Martin guitars and Steinway pianos.

Historical instruments from China.
Sitars and more from India.

The Mechanical Music Gallery is a collection of automated music machines, the kind that play themselves. You can’t miss the 27-foot-wide organ that looks kind of like a monstrous old-time juke box. Inside the bright green and  yellow façade are 680 wooden and metal organ pipes, two accordions, two saxophones, xylophone, drum set and other percussion instruments.

A 1926 mechanical organ with 680 pipes, two accordions, drum set and other instruments.

In the Experience Gallery, visitors have the hands-on opportunity to play an array of instruments that are on the display throughout the museum. Among them are drums, gongs, banjos, guitars and theremins. (You might recall an episode of “Big Bang Theory” in which character Sheldon Cooper plays a theremin. The sound is rather spooky, like a high-pitched whine.)

Elsewhere through the museum: Conservation Lab, where you can see instruments being restored and preserved; Café Allegro, serving freshly-made global cuisine; and MIM Music Theater, which hosts a rich variety of live performances.

“Violino Barocco,” 1941, inlaid violin by Simone Fernando Sacconi. Photo courtesy of Musical Instrument Museum.

A special exhibit earlier this year was “Stradivarius: Origins and Legacy of the Greatest Violin Maker.” On display were five historical instruments from 16th to early 19th centuries and five contemporary masterworks from America and Europe, representing the ongoing legacy of violin-making in Cremona, Italy. During the 16th Century, Cremona experienced a period of intense creativity. Artists of all genres converged there, including violin makers and wood carvers.

The Stradivarius exhibit included a selection of rarely-seen tools and designs from the workshop of Antonio Stradivari.

Past exhibits have included women in rock and African thumb pianos.

The Musical Instrument Museum is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix




PLEASE NOTE: The top feature photo and the Sacconi violin photo are from the Musical Instrument Museum. The others are mine. PMcK.

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