The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ struck a chord with me. Many chords, actually. A music-lover—though not, regrettably, a musician—I found the MIM one of the most amazing museums I’ve ever visited. The MIM combines geography, history, anthropology and musicology--and you even get to try your hand at playing some of the world's most exotic instruments.
The main attraction, of course, is the collection of musical instruments from around the globe. The MIM houses exotic instruments you’ve probably never heard or seen before: Imagine drums with heads of python skin. Some instruments are primitive and dusty, made of plant material; and some are sophisticated and shiny, made of precious metals. The instruments are as sophisticated as a Steinway piano and as crude as a rattle made of a bull scrotum.
The MIM’s tagline—“Music is the language of the world”—sets the tone for a global educational excursion. Traveling through the MIM by continent and nation, you’ll find colorful instruments of every kind, ancient and contemporary. The video screens display musicians playing various instruments from their native country, sometimes solo, sometimes in ensemble, sometimes instrumental music only, sometimes with vocals.
Save time for the galleries on the ground floor:
• The Experience Room allows visitors to try their hand at harps, gongs, drums, keyboards, percussion instruments and a variety of other music-makers.
• Another gallery shows off a collection of automated music machine: Victrolas and player pianos, Nickolodeans and
• The Artist Gallery features various performers, including Paul Simon and Eric Clapton. The Family Center.
• Another gallery includes a number of “juke boxes” for visitors to step into, crank up the sound and even have a go at mixing music.
• The Family Room provides a respite spot for youngsters. Complete with colorful, kid-sized tables and chairs, the Family Room also includes books and educational toys such as globes and world maps or puzzles. There’s a family restroom and even a Nursing Room.
Also on the ground floor, a beautiful piano invites musicians to tickle the ivories for the enjoyment of other guests. On my second visit, a young man, probably high school aged, wearing a gray t-shirt, blue jeans, and an orange baseball ap on backwards, sat down and played impressively for a good half hour. After he left, the piano seemed particularly silent. About 10 minutes later, a pair of kids walked up and banged on the keyboard until a woman I assumed to be their grandmother sat down to play Chopsticks.
Tony Bennett called the MIM “my favorite museum in the world.”
The MIM itself is a harmonious building with expansive spaces, soaring ceilings, lots of natural light and architectural highlights. Art from around the world adorns the museum. Concert halls showcase visiting musicians. Outside, benches welcome moments of repose; and those who listen will hear the music of the water features.