A gem: The Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum

Yesterday, on a lark, we visited the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). I wasn’t sure what I expected. Perhaps exhibits of seminal instruments, and artist histories (they do have that), but I was blown away.

First, it is in a gorgeous building, with fabulous architecture, and a well thought out plan. We started on the second floor, in the Africa region, and was completely fascinated. There are included headsets that come alive when you get near a station. All around the museum there are rolling video displays of the history and origins of various instruments, and how they were used in folk or court music.

And there are LOTS of musical instruments on display. Many are old, some are newer recreations, but the attention to detail, and the care with which the exhibits are curated is top notch. As I mentioned, we started in the Africa region (the cradle of civilization), moving through the middle east and then to Asia, the pacific islands (and Australia/NZ), and into Latin America. We spent three hours, and were blown away, and we didn’t even get to the US and European halls (for a different day, me thinks).

Then on the first floor there are two halls worthy of spending time.  The Artists area, that has some selected icons. First up is Dick Dale, the king of surf guitar. Yep, you know I was groovin’ to that (I learned something, he was a southpaw, but played a right handed guitar upside down. Way cool). Also of note is Andy Summers of the Police, Roy Orbison, a LARGE display of Elvis Presley, and a display of Steve Vai’s triple neck guitar he used on the G3 tour in 2004.

The other room is a “hands on” room where you can play with some instruments. The price of admission is worth it to play with a Theramin.  Fun and awesome. They also had a few guitars (horrible intonation, and action, but for people to mess with I guess that is OK), and lots of percussion stuff to play with.

I will certainly return many times, to understand the wholeness. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was awesome and inspiring. Music is something that binds humans, and listening to the primitive bowed or plucked string instruments of the various countries in Africa, as well as some virtuoso quality lute music was just humbling.

Highly recommended if you get to Phoenix with an afternoon to burn.

(Oh, and there is a piano in the main lobby that people can just play. Clearly some people kept up their lessons.)

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