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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 6, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 01
Musical Instrument Museum hits all the right notes
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Musical Instrument Museum hits all the right notes

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Deep in the heart of Phoenix - well, in the outskirts near the posh neighborhood of Paradise Valley - lies one of the most fascinating museums dedicated to all things music.

Opened in April 2010, the 190,000-square foot Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) has steadily been attracting visitors from around the world, even top-notch artists such as Santana, George Benson, Andy Summer of The Police, and Native American standout Carlos Nikai. True to its name, this year-old institution boasts 15,000 display items in 75,000 square feet of gallery space. From a Tunisian kettle drum made of wood and camel skin to an Asian-Russian rattle sculpted out of bull scrotum to an Israeli trumpet carved from sheep horns, the museum is both interesting and educational.

Divided into various wings representing world regions like Africa, Middle East, Latin America, and Oceania, the museum is simple to navigate through on your own, especially with the aid of audio headsets with built-in sensors that allow guests to experience the sights and sounds of the instruments shown on demonstration videos at each station. Perhaps the most elaborate of these instruments are from Asia, spliced into four sections - Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. The assortment includes Indian sitars, Japanese flutes, Indonesian gongs, Filipino lutes, and vintage footage of Chinese opera.

After you've strolled through all 10 regional galleries upstairs, there's more to see on the main level. An exhibit of Fender guitars, in contrasting shapes and colors, is down the hallway from the guest services counter. Adjacent to it is the Orientation Gallery, a room showcasing a sampling of the broad range of instruments found throughout the MIM.

Also on the first floor is a Conservation Lab, where experts perform maintenance and repair to museum pieces recently imported - even the tiniest particle can be removed at the last minute before the item goes on display. Across the hall, an Experience Gallery lets visitors strum, beat, pluck, or bang instruments to their heart's desire. Further on, the Artist Gallery is full of authentic belongings from some of the world's past and present superstars, Elvis Presley among them. Two of the icon's legendary costumes are here, his 'Red Ladder' and 'King of Spades' jumpsuits, as well as genuine movie posters from his acting days. Exhibits in the Artist Gallery routinely change, and coming soon is one reserved for Phoenix-bred Stevie Nicks. The rock diva will donate (temporarily, I presume) a tambourine and other memorabilia from her almost 40-year career to the museum in mid-February. Another upcoming exhibit in this same gallery will fete Clara Rockmore, an early pioneer of electronic music known for her skill on the theremin.

The MIM Music Theater is a 299-seat venue with frequent performances by established artists and local bands or ensembles. Some give intimate concerts, others conduct seminars, and yet there are those who do both. On the afternoon I visited, John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band shared humorous tales from the band's tours, like being in the same dressing room with Eddie Vedder and Bob Dylan. He played to a packed crowd later that evening. The theater is equipped with a state-of-the-art sound system, providing for high-quality acoustics. The current concert series, updated regularly to include brand new shows, already features Desert Rose Band (January 18), David Broza (January 28), Todd Snider (February 2), Eric Bibb (February 11), and Amy Hanaiali'i with Jeff Peterson (February 25).

A great way to complete your visit to the museum is lunch at The Cafe at MIM, located on the main floor. For something light, try the coffee shop area for an espresso beverage and pastry, and for a heartier meal go to the cafeteria-style dining room that has amazing burgers, salads, stir-fry, and entrees in a casual setting. Be sure to also stop by the Museum Store for a unique selection of music-type keepsakes, such as an inexpensive assortment of artisan costume jewelry.

For any music fan, no matter the interest level of how it's made, I guarantee the MIM will be a memorable experience that you'll want to relive each time you're in or around Phoenix. The museum was founded by former Target CEO Robert Ulrich, an African arts collector who transformed his idea into a distinct contemporary landmark. The Musical Instrument Museum is located at 4725 East Mayo Boulevard, about 15 minutes from Sky Harbor International Airport and close to downtown Scottsdale and Tempe. For specific information on hours, directions, upcoming concerts, and current exhibits, visit www.themim.org.

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