Monday, December 13, 2010

MIM's The Word

How many instruments would it take to adequately represent the musical history of the culture of each of about 200 countries and territories in the world?

How long would it take to study nearly 300 exhibits of musical instruments from around the world?

I’d like to hear what some of these instruments sound like, but how much noise would that create?

These are just some of the questions that we should have been asking if we had done a little homework before our visit to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix. But we had not been aware of MIM’s existence until we received complimentary tickets from my aunt Evelyn.

The Museum is located on 20 acres in an open, sparsely-populated area just north of Phoenix. The unique exterior, which looked like sandstone to us, provided a warm welcome as we approached the entrance.

Once inside, we were noticed the members of the Desert Bells, a community handbell ensemble for youth, preparing for an informal concert.

In March 1991, Kay Cook organized the group to provide a vehicle for artistic excellence, as well as personal growth and development. Today, Desert Bells International (DBI) consists of three performing ensembles and has members ages six to adult interested in pursuing musical excellence and furthering the art of English Handbell ringing.

We were able to take these photographs of the bells before the members gathered around the tables. While the great majority of the bells are rung by the wrist action of the player, some of the larger bells are played by striking them with padded hammers. One of the largest bells weighed 28 pounds.

We listened to a couple of selections, intent more on the musicians and their technique of bell ringing, than on the musical selections themselves.

I often thought that a bell ringing program would have been a very useful program for the emotionally disturbed kids I worked with over the years. The discipline and dedication to mastering a skill was apparent in the performance of this group, and the pride resulting from this effort was apparent on the faces of the performers.

In the case of my interest in developing such a program, however, the costs of the bells was prohibitive.

Kay Cook's idea has paid big dividends. The four groups within Desert Bells (5-12-year-olds; 7th, 8th, and 9th Grade-Level musicians; Bronze-works, the high-profile group of primarily high school-age performers; and adults) are called upon for frequent local performances. Bronzeworks frequently tours nationally and internationally.

The music was wonderful, but the expressions on the faces of the musicians showed the real meaning to the performers.

We could have stayed longer listening to the performance, but we had many exhibits to visit in the Museum. Jesse and cousin Raina headed in one direction and Kate and I headed toward the Europe Room and the United States/Canada Room (below).

The Musical Instrument Museum is a beautifully-designed structure, both inside and out. A $250 million project, the building covers about 190,000 square feet.

On the second floor are 10 rooms featuring the musical instruments of 10 different regions of the world. Within each of these spacious rooms are instruments characteristic of the nations in that group. We soon realized just how impressive the Museum's quantity and quality of instruments was.

This photo and the one below show the Bowed Strings display. We had to proceed at a faster pace that we had anticipated, so I was not able to record much detail about the instruments on display.

I was attracted to the shapes of some of the unusual items shown here. The "hollow" Violin Sourdine, or mute violin (left, in the photo on the right), was used for practicing.

The MIM opened in 2010 and seemed able to accommodate sizable crowds with ease. As we walked around the displays, we had the sense of being part of a small group--even though many cars and a few buses were in the parking lot.

The Strohviol, or horn fiddle (left), and the tenor horn (below) are just two of the 4,000 instruments on display at any one time.

The Museum's collection of instruments totals about 10,000, so several return visits would be necessary to see all of the collection displayed on a rotating basis.

To begin our tour we were handed earphones and a device which, as we moved closer to a particular exhibit, enabled us to hear the music that coincided with the video on the screen for that display. No order to follow, no dials to control. Just stand before the monitor at a display and see and hear the instrument being played.

The Esporta-zione Modale, or valved horn, from Italy, was displayed in the Europe room.

We learned that two hours was not nearly time enough to tour the Museum. When it closed, we were still touring. However, our report of that tour will continue tomorrow.

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