I Can Hear Music!
Visited: March 2018
On my recent Spring Training outing to the Phoenix area, I asked my friend Jeff if there was a museum he could recommend while I visited. Without hesitation and knowing my passion for music, he replied, “We have to go to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM).” It turned out to be a fantastic decision. If I had not needed to drive back to Los Angeles that afternoon, I could have spent the entire day touring this magnificent facility.
In its many galleries, the 200,000 square-foot MIM displays 6,800 instruments (from a collection of more than 13,000) from more than 200 countries. It is the largest museum of its type in the world! It opened in 2010.
Musical icons from John Lennon to Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley to Taylor Swift are featured in stupendous interactive exhibits featuring snippets of their work. Actually every gallery displays high-resolution videos. Visitors can listen to performances and various instruments “through a wireless guidePORT and headphones that are activated automatically when an exhibit is being observed.” I had never seen nor heard anything quite like it.
One gallery lets visitors try their hand at playing instruments. After they listened to my feeble attempts, the museum curator might be rethinking this area, especially since my performance was geared more for The Gong Show.
This area very much reminded me of the Nethercutt Museum & Collection in Sylmar, CA, another fascinating museum (photo below).
I could go on and on trying to drum up some business for this place, so before I harp on even further about how fantastic my experience was at this museum, let me take you on a little tour of the exhilarating MIM.
Jeff (donning his stylish Moody Blues Rock and Roll Hall of Fame t-shirt) and I entered the MIM. Its exterior architecture represents the topography of the Southwest and desert landscape with its primarily Indian sandstone composition.
What looked like totem poles outside the museum were in fact Atingtings (slit drums) from the island nation of Vanuatu. These instruments with carved faces representing ancestral spirits are played for ceremonial dancing. I could tell I was in for an enlightening day.
After paying $20 (a bargain … especially since Jeff paid for me), we first entered the Artist Gallery. In front of us stood John Lennon’s Steinway Model Z upright piano on which he composed one of his famous songs. I could only Imagine being there.
Mr. ‘Miserlou’ himself, Dick Dale, was featured in a prominent exhibit. Known as “The King of the Surf Guitar,” I asked Jeff if his music could then be considered “Old Wave.” It was at this point Jeff began reconsidering his invitation.
We checked out the old ‘Rebel Rouser’, Duane Eddy, who also had a huge hit with the Theme from Peter Gunn. On the wall is his Rebel Rouser gold record.
Someone who I did know a little more about, famed composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, found his corner at the museum. No Jets or Sharks interfered as I read about his accomplishments, which included his compositions from West Side Story.
A few of my favorites from my country-western DJ days (KDOL in majestic Mojave) in the 70s were on display, like John Denver’s guitar. I had told Jeff before leaving from L.A., “By the time I get to Phoenix, I hope to see a Glen Campbell exhibit at the museum.” Sure enough, his guitar, wardrobe and even a set of bagpipes the versatile musician played can be seen here.
I walked the line over to the Johnny Cash exhibit, where I checked out the memorabilia of the “Man in Black” who sold more than 50 million albums.
You want to see the Grammy for Roy Orbison’s Oh Pretty Woman? You Got It at the MIM. As the story goes, in 1964 Orbison’s wife asked for some money. Orbison’s songwriting partner Bill Dees said, “Pretty woman never needs any money.” A song was born.
At this point, I thought, “It’s Over,” but this area just keeps on going.
Of course, there had to be an Elvis exhibit, including his Army uniform (in 1958 “The King of Rock and Roll” was stationed in Germany for 18 months) and plenty of videos.
Taking Care of Business, I stopped by Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Gold Leaf award for 1974’s Group of the Year. I’d love to have Randy Bachman’s ‘Elvis Suit.’ He also made his own version of a Gibson “Flying v” guitar.
Finally, we Swiftly made our way to Taylor’s display, which included her custom stage piano. No pictures of spurned boyfriends were to be found.
Next up for the intrepid duo was the Mechanical Music Gallery featuring all those music machines that literally play themselves. The late 19th century to the early 20th century was known as the Golden Age of Mechanical Music, and this room contains many magical musical innovations.
Standing out among the numerous instruments is a two ton, 25-foot long Jazz Dance Organ named Appollonia manufactured in 1926 in Antwerp, Belgium (fun performance can be found on Youtube).
We checked out a 1903 Swiss Orchestral Music Box, which includes among other things Mandarin figures striking bells …
This machine means I’ll never play the violin again (got photo off internet since glare was bad the day I visited). It uses paper rolls just like a player piano.
Outside the Experience Gallery, in a Tom Hanks’ “Big” moment, Jeff regaled the crowd with his rendition of the Michigan Fight Song. I think that’s what propelled them to the NCAA finals. Inside he channeled his inner Harpo Marx.
There were everything from percussion instruments in this gallery to a colorful metallophone from South Korea.
My unorthodox Bang a Gong style (I looked suspiciously like a T-Rex) left much to be desired.
We first powwowed at an Oklahoma Native American ornate dance regalia, complete with a Big Drum.
The world’s largest sousaphone (1924) was on display … the same one that toured the nation and was featured at the Chicago World’s Fair. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I saw an instrument associated with John Philip Sousa in March.
Moving to the 1940s, the Big Band era was well presented with Benny Goodman’s and Artie Shaw’s clarinets flanking Harry James’ trumpet, and a vibraphone that Lionel Hampton could have made sweet sounds.
This cornet was owned by Louis Armstrong’s teacher at a New Orleans boys’ home where Satchmo learned to play it and the bugle. Also on display were a selection of signed harmonics by legendary Blues players …
… and a stage gown worn by “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald.
What can you say about My Generation? Time for a little rock and roll paraphernalia including what remains of the Who’s Keith Moon’s drums that he detonated after a performance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour …
… a Les Paul electric guitar …
… a drum set from the “Wrecking Crew,” a group of musicians who recorded 35,000 tracks including 150 Top Ten hits …
I love a parade, and Philadelphia’s Mummers add a colorful touch.
It was time to tour Europe on my frequent music miles. Poland had an array of accordions. I couldn’t tell if the one on the right had Polka dots.
Croatia’s booth reminded me I had to get back to Dubrovnik’s Buza Bar one more time.
In Russia, I could hear those balalaikas ringing out, but there was no one to keep this comrade warm, and then suddenly I was in the mood for a Ricola and couldn’t figure out why.
It was finally here that Jeff told me to pipe down on all the puns, so I decided to bag them for a bit, although I really wanted to ask him if he had a Black Watch. Now I had remorse that we hadn’t gone to a Flamenco show in España …
… however I got sidetracked while thinking if these lovely harps could really save the Wales booth.
One of our last (and favorite) stops in Europe was at a booth where we listened to classical music pieces performed in some of Europe’s magnificent cathedrals. The sound was truly enthralling, and one need not go Baroque to listen.
In the Heat of the Moment, we made Asia our next stop. Of course, one can’t go to Asia without Turning Japanese, and it seemed this musician was a basket case, but it turned out to be a traditional way of performing this ritual.
The tuned rattles (or Angklungs … left) are popular throughout southeast Asia, and the plucked zithers are popular in the West Java province (having never had my zither plucked, I could only imagine the pain). Remember: what’s really cool is that all these booths include demonstrations of the instruments playing in your headphones with videos to watch at the same time. We zithered on.
There was a close shave in Burma before being strung along by this Mandalayan general.
While I enjoyed this Burmese plucked lute, Jeff thought it was a croc.
These colorful bronze and wood Pyenjong (bells) are from Paju, Gyeonggi Provence.
Our tour continued in the mid-East and Africa.
I was surprised but there were no Flock of Seagulls in Iran.
Colorful outfits from Nigeria to Sierra Leone stood out.
Ever heard of a Thumb Piano? Me neither. I wished I owned one, so I could have a Tom Thumb Piano.
… but finally it was time for the Squirrel Whisperer to leave Africa, but not before I stopped an old man along the way. I hoped to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies. He turned to me as if to say, “Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Africa anymore.
It’s hard to get away from colorful costumes here, like this one from the State of Yucatan. Jeff and I had fond (yet a bit hazy) memories of our San Diego State days when we used to travel to the Long Bar in Tijuana and ask the Mariachi band to play Granada.
We stayed south of the border for a few more minutes.
As a kid, you’re told not to “run with Scissors,” however the Peruvian Scissors Dance is something to behold. “Two specialists perform acrobatic stunts to outdo the opponent in actions that test his ability to control natural and supernatural forces.” After viewing the video, my suggestion … “Don’t try this at home.” The Scissors Dance is definitely a cut above.
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, but it was time to leave the MIM.
… to interactive audio and video presentations, which are second to none that I’ve witnessed at any museum …
… to costumes and props from around the globe …
… to being able to enjoy some of history’s most incredible musicians (along with their stories and music) …
…if you’re ever in the Phoenix area and you pass on an opportunity to visit the Musical Instrument Museum … you’re Crazy …
Musical Instrument Museum
4725 E Mayo Blvd.
Phoenix, Arizona 85050
Open: Daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: Adults $20 • Teens $15 • Kids 4 – 12 $10 (additional costs for special exhibitions and concerts … check website)