Suspended instruments in the Music Instrument Museum’s main staircase foyer
“Electric acoustic” guitar from South Africa at the Music Instrument Museum
Visitors use wireless headphones to hear streamed music samples at exhibits
Videos demonstrate instrument performances
One of my favorite exhibits, homage to Adolphe Sax
The Music Instrument Museum is “number one” among Phoenix area museum attractions on Tripadvisor.com. In December I had the opportunity to find out why. It’s like a Disneyland for music lovers; one could easily spend the entire day here, and still wanting more. I suppose if you absolutely hate music, maybe one day is enough. It’s not merely a museum for old folk instruments; and it’s certainly not just all about music. It’s more about global cultures and all forms of expression, communication – the total human experience. During our recent visit, I immediately began making notes how my next visit could be enhanced. Here are some things to know before you go:
1. Go early. Naturally if you haven’t been to the MIM yet, you’ll just have to trust me: Time will pass very quickly. I’d recommend getting there soon after the 9 a.m. opening and be prepared to spend a good chunk of the day. We arrived shortly after 10 a.m. on a Monday morning and before we realized what was happening, we had already spent three hours and we were still in the first geographic exhibit room.
2. Visit on a weekday. One drawback about visiting the MIM when schools are in session is you may be competing with field trip tours for quality listening space. You may want to steer clear of the school groups as you move about the exhibits. However, on the day we visited, the loud school groups were gone by lunchtime and we virtually had the entire second floor to ourselves. I found this advantageous for taking photos (non-flash) of the exhibits or spending extra time listening to various recordings. If a large family or school group is concentrated on one exhibit, simply move to another then circle back later.
3. Consider bringing your own wireless headphones. I didn’t really have any problems with the headphones given to me at the counter, but I had wished I had a pair to better cancel out extraneous, external noise. Sometimes it is a bit hard to find the “hotspot” of the streaming music at particular exhibits, and several times I was picking up streams from other nearby exhibits. I thought it may be a better listening experience to have premium equipment. But of course, the experience is only as good as the recording, in most cases.
4. Have lunch in the cafeteria. This is a special treat in itself. Much of the menu comes from local farms and food sources. Don’t miss this! Plan to take a leisurely lunch break and enjoy farm fresh and deliciously prepared menu items. Even the beer and wine are local. Kick back and enjoy the bright and airy lunchroom. You will need a lengthy lunch break to give your eyes, ears and feet a well-deserved rest. Portions are fairly large: we split a sandwich, salad and dessert.
5. Plan your self-guided tour. Next time we’ll know this: map out your route around the rooms before embarking the exhibition expedition. Each of the geographic galleries has its own merit. Because we started chronologically through Africa, the Middle East and Asia, by the time we got to America, we were already tired and hungry. On our next visit, I think we’ll start in Europe and North America with popular, contemporary music, then work our way back through time.
6. Don’t miss the special galleries. No matter where you start your tour of MIM, don’t forget the first floor galleries, including a “hands-on” experience gallery where you can pound on drums and pluck harp strings; a rotating gallery featuring a famous musical artist’s life and work; and a special exhibition gallery for traveling exhibits.
7. Watch instruments being restored and preserved. In the conservation lab, visitors can watch through a window as technicians preserve, restore and repair instruments for display.
8. Check the concert calendar. Because we visited during the Christmas season, the calendar included holiday music. These evening and matinee performances are fee extra, but well worth consideration. For example, Grammy winning composer-songwriter Jimmy Webb is in the house this week.
9. Consider leaving the toddlers at Grandma’s house. Although there are several instruments children can try playing in the Experience Gallery, most exhibits would simply not appeal to children younger than elementary reading age. I think most toddlers would simply be bored by visiting MIM. I’d recommend bringing them along when they are old enough to appreciate the listening and learning about music.
10. Know at least one more visit is required. Even after six hours, we still didn’t see it all, but we acknowledged that with the traveling and rotating exhibits, some instruments being repaired, there was no possible way to see everything. Just knowing that the geographical galleries were still being filled and expanded prompted us to anticipate our next visit to the Music Instrument Museum. There’s so much happening here, you’ll want to sign up for its newsletter and announcements, or even consider becoming a donor or volunteer.
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