Musical Instrument Museum
When pronounced, in Russian MIM creates a quaint juxtopposition with the very nature of this fascinating place: the Russian word ‘мим’ which means a ‘mine, pantomine’.
I took up a hobby of collecting musical instruments years ago, after my trip to Egypt, from which I returned with a tam-tam. I love percussion, its hypnotizing savagery, setting your heart at a faster pace, appealing to your genetic memory, unfurling the subconscious. I brought a funny wooden frog from South Africa – it recreates the vibrant tribal sounds of Africa if you rub its back with a little wooden stick; and castanets from Andalusia – conjuring the images of passionate flamenco, its sharp movements as if on the edge of a razor. My father gave me a harmonica and an old car horn. There’s also an electronic piano and the saxophone I play now and then. My collection did not grow big, although the passion has remained. Having crossed half the world, I found myself at the doorstep of my dream.
It’s the Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix, Arizona. It sprouted from a hobby of a person who loves music. Once upon a time, Robert J. Ulrich, a businessman, having no command of any musical instrument but with a deep passion for music, started collecting musical instruments. He travelled the world and an instrument from each country he went to found a place in his musical collection. He got to know the world through the prism of music. His collection was growing, unrestricted by financial predicaments. He reached a point where he contemplated donating all of the instruments to a charity when his friend Marc Felix came up with the idea of starting a Musical Instrument Museum. That’s where I found myself, in a miraculous world, where you travel from one country to another and learn about its culture, history and people through music.
The museum is divided into sections by continent and each continent is further subdivided into countries. Each state is represented, regardless of its role or scale on a geopolitical map. Thus, I found a separate exhibit for each newly formed Balkan state here, including Montenegro. Each country is allocated an individual exhibit displaying musical instruments, providing information about each, and the role it plays in the culture of its people. And once you approach, you can hear the music accompanying the performance on the screen, dancing, singing and playing the instruments which are displayed in this country’s collection. As you approach a new exhibit, you find yourself in a different country; plunged into a whole new world, full of sounds and images. According to one of the theories of Neuro-linguistic Programming, people are divided into tactile learners, audio learners and visual learners, based on the dominating sense in their body. This magical place appeals to all three, creating an engulfing feeling of presence in each exotic place. There is also a room where you can touch and try to extract a sound, your own tune, from all various instruments displayed there. Some exhibits are still empty, there are tables installed requesting guests to participate in creating the museum. In fact, it is only one year old; however the work which has been done is gargantuan.
The Museum has a beautiful concert hall hosting concerts of classical and ethnical music (I was lucky to chance upon a performance of spiritual music of Peru performed by a musician who hand-made all his instruments) and movie theatre; the Museum also holds workshops and lectures for students and post-graduates.
Africa is represented most profoundly, and that’s where I lingered the longest as I’m fascinated by the continent, its people and the multiple cultures. You find the most unimaginable instruments here, along with the mesmerizing stories of tribes using those instruments as a language, an indispensable part of rituals, and a means of communication in general. Those stories could only be heard straight from the source.
I imagined Robert J. Ulrich travelling from one little tribe to another, staying over, living in huts, adopting their life style, learning to understand their language, the music which narrates all those stories. The Musical Instrument Museum is a whole Universe of a person who dedicated himself to exploring this world through the prism of music.