Calling themselves the world’s first “global” Musical Instrument Museum, MIM’s grand opening began in Phoenix, AZ weekend of April 24th 2010. Though there are other musical instruments in Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin, and Belgium, to name a few, organizers of the $250 million Phoenix project say that the others lack a global perspective.
MIM certainly does have a global perspective. Equipped with headset and receiver, visitors follow a network of interlinked geo-galleries, ten in all, that represent a different part of the world: Africa, Middle East, East Asia, Latin America, Oceania, and so on. Each region of the world is represented, and the goal is that each country within each region will have their own gallery, complete with an assortment of instruments and audio/video display.
The scope is certainly impressive and the execution is well done. For the most part, beautiful pieces of music unique to each region are displayed. Exotic instruments are part of each exhibit when possible.
Unfortunately, at the opening there are a number exhibits where the video playback is not available, where there is video but no instruments, or where the exhibit is altogether empty. I am told that there will be 10,000 instruments on display when the collection is complete. At the grand opening there were less than 4,000.
It’s incredibly difficult to resist the desire to touch most of the instruments, particularly the numerous, varied, odd-shaped, and extraordinary looking percussion pieces. MIM’s planners knew this as well, which is why they created an interactive “Experience Gallery” where attendees are encouraged to play the instruments on display.
Though the last stop on the tour, many may want to consider visiting the Experience Gallery beforehand. I sat down in the relatively quiet room full of only the sound of random string plucks from the many harp-like string instruments and began playing a drum beat and solo on a wooden set some kind of drums with animal skin heads.
Before long another patron grabbed an acoustic guitar off the wall, produced a pick, and we began to jam. After just a few minutes something of a crowd gathered around us, and then we were informed that the museum was about to close and we better give someone else a turn. It was a great bit of fun and the highlight of the visit. At no other museum I’ve been to could such a level of interaction be achieved, and I’ve been to a lot.
The biggest disappointments, with the most room for improvement, are the “United States” and “Artist” galleries.
Blues, Jazz, and Rock are ridiculously underrepresented for the United States. So is Hip Hop where the gallery consists of a simple turn table and a video that looks like it was taken from Sesame Street in the 1980s.
The Artist Gallery is meant to highlight specific artists. The most modern rockers displayed here are Eric Clapton and John Lennon – a disappointment to say the least. Though other talented and important guitarists, such as Hendrix, are mentioned in writing at some of the exhibits, there’s no further representation of other guitar greats. At Lennon’s display the song “Imagine” plays on a loop, but the video only contains a single verse. At the very least it could play the entire song. And since the loop contains no other samples, there’s really no excuse for it.
The featured drummer section is even more mind-boggling. Aside from what basically amounts to a commercial for Zildjian, a popular maker of cymbals, it only features Keith Harris, the so-so drummer from Black Eyed Peas, with no mention of any of the greatest living drummers of our time, such as Vinnie Colaiuta or Dave Weckl.
All in all, people should expect to spend between an hour and a half and two hours to view all of the exhibits.
The MIM museum does have one of the best admission structures that I’ve seen in a long time. Adults are only $15, $13 for seniors, $10 for children ages 6 to 17, and absolutely free for kids five and under.
Any parties containing small children, the elderly, or disabled should take note that there are very few places to take short breaks and sit for a while. MIM would do good by adding a few benches, especially at spots along the route with longer videos.
In addition to the many galleries, the museum has a concert hall, café, musical theater where events are held, and a courtyard where stacks, beers, and wine are sold.
The Musical Instrument Museum succeeds in providing a unique experience, exposing everyone to new cultural sounds and music. (I never even knew that Mongolian music was so much like metal.) The visit is fun for children and adults.