By Mike Conklin, Special to Tribune Newspapers
February 6, 2013
PHOENIX — In less than three years, the Musical Instrument Museum has gained a reputation as a premier cultural destination in the Valley of the Sun, an area loaded with eclectic museums and galleries.
No, you don't need to play an instrument to appreciate this bright, beautiful facility's offerings.
As someone who struggled through a year of drum lessons in high school, I spent two hours more than expected in MIM. I'm not alone. An informal exit survey indicated almost everyone stayed longer than planned. The average visit, museum officials say, is more than three hours.
MIM has the largest collection of musical artifacts (more than 15,000) and related resources this side of Brussels' Muziekinstrumentenmuseum — from John Lennon's piano for composing "Imagine" and Taylor Swift's handwritten lyrics to six Belgian carillon bells cast in 1659 and a Chinese drum dating to 5000 or so B.C..
The 200,000-square-foot building has exhibits brought to life with the latest wireless audio/visual technology; engaging programming, concerts and outreach; hard-to-find items in its store; and inviting choices on the cafe's international menu.
But what made MIM appealing to my tin ear was this: The exhibits are equal parts music, history and geography. Ultimately, the instruments are shown to be tools, and the music they produce, with rhythms and sounds, is the ultimate ribbon connecting and plumbing diverse cultures.
You'll likely enjoy the music of an Elvis Presley performance more than admire his Gibson 200 guitar. Same goes for great footage of Duke Ellington on a Steinway piano. On the other hand, seeing boomerangs by Australian aborigines as clap sticks in a dance ritual or finger cymbals used by Egyptian belly dancers may be more entertaining than the music these instruments produce.
The exhibits are organized by continent, but whether you're in Africa, Europe or another continent, you'll undoubtedly linger longer than planned.
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