Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Positively The MIM

by Mauverneen

One of the best surprises on my trip to Phoenix was a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum - MIM for short. While that may sound boring to some, believe me, it was anything but. Planning to spend a couple of hours there, it turned into the better part of a day - cut short only because I had somewhere else to be.

Unusual instruments

Instruments from Latin America completely made of recycled items - look close

Even an air guitar!
The museum, which opened in April of 2010 is the largest of its kind in the world and the only global instrument museum in the world. Brainchild of Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and chairman emeritus of Target Corporation and his friend Marc Felix, MIM has 6,500 instruments from over 200 countries on exhibit at any one time. There are also special exhibits, currently Stradivarius (until June 5th), the violins and their maker, a restaurant, a theater, and a conservation lab that is open to viewing at all times via a large glass window.
The conservation lab
While most museums have audio guides that follow a set viewing pattern, the audio tour at the MIM is like having your own personal guide, and not just audio but video. Hidden identifiers at exhibits automatically cue the guides to exactly the right track at over 300 sites. You can spend as much or as little time as you want anywhere, and select which exhibits interest you and bypass any that don’t. For me, that was almost impossible – EVERYTHING looked interesting.

Ever play water-filled glasses? My kids will love this one!
We were warned though – we were told to seek out what we really wanted to see and then go back and take in whatever else time allowed for. Good advice. One could spend hours in the first gallery – Africa – comparing the instruments and the sounds of all it’s countries. 

One of the galleries
More advice – eat a good breakfast. While we had every intention of dining in the restaurant, an award winning café with a changing menu featuring locally grown, seasonal ingredients and cuisine from around the globe, we ran overtime. Not keeping an eye on the clock, by the time we finished upstairs, the café had closed. But I know there will be another time – I plan on going back to the MIM whenever my next trip to Phoenix is.

As entertaining as the museum is it is also quite educational. For instance you can look up your ethnic musical heritage. Scotch, Turkish, Chinese, Native American? Look it up and listen.


Naturally, some larger countries have more than one exhibit.  Native American for instance is broken down into tribes and I could have spent an entire day just listening to every U.S. display. Classical, country, jazz, blues, rock, opera, you name it, it’s all here: Gin Blossoms, Black Eyed Peas, Johnny Cash, Alice Cooper, Duane Eddy, Les Paul, Hip Hop, Jazz, Polka, etc. etc. etc.  

Some variation of certain instruments is common to most countries. It seemed every one has a variation of a drum, and a flutelike instrument. Stringed instruments similar to guitars also seem to be a common musical thread. I was the most intrigued however by how many countries had some type of ‘bagpipe’.  If you thought, like I did, that it is strictly a Scottish tradition you would be wrong. Very wrong.
A bagpipe from an Eastern European country - Slovakia
One gallery not to be missed is the ‘Artists Gallery’, with some notable features. John Lennons’s piano is on display as your audio cues up ‘Imagine’ which was composed on it.

Costumes worn by artists from Elvis to Taylor Swift are on display here, as their audio and video performances come on. In the videos you watch a performance on that very instrument or in that very costume that is in front of you.

A final gallery to spend time in is the Experience Gallery - a hands on experience that encourages you to try your hand at any of the instruments from a variety of countries on the floor. Believe me, it is not just for kids.
Bang a gong...
...or something else....
...or 'play' a Theremin - an instrument you never touch. (photo courtesy MIM)
Speaking of hands on, there is a grand piano on the main floor with a sign indicating that you are welcome to play it if you are so inclined.

Browsing upstairs in the African Gallery I heard the most beautiful piano music echoing through the halls. I had to see where it came from. Seated at that Grand Piano, was a man completely engrossed in his music. I asked a guard who that was, thinking the museum must have someone come in occasionally to play. His response was ‘I have no idea.’ At this point I did not realize the piano could be played by just anyone visiting. I headed down to where a crowd was beginning to gather and enjoyed this impromptu concert. The man was truly amazing, playing everything from show tunes like ‘Summertime’, to the classical ‘Fur Elise’, to Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls of Fire’ with ‘Chariots of Fire’ and ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’ thrown in.  What a treat! I was riveted.

Later that afternoon, my friend Rick, whose idea it had been to visit this particular museum,(so thank you sir), was standing next to someone listening to some audio or other when the man said something like ‘Nice playing’. Rick’s response was ‘You should have heard the guy playing the piano downstairs earlier’ only to look up and find out it WAS the guy who had been playing the piano downstairs earlier.

Special kudos to that man, who gave his name as David Grosso and said he was a retired Miami firefighter. I find it hard to believe the man did not have a professional music career. He was awesome!

If you live in the Phoenix area, when it gets too hot to spend time outdoors this summer but you need to get out, or you really want to impress out of town guests, head over to the Musical Instrument Museum. You won’t be sorry. And who knows what  surprises could be in store for you.

All photos are my own, unless otherwise credited
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