Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Reconsidering Music at Awards Season: The "MIM" in Phoenix Arizona- Wednesday Journal

Last April, the Musical Instrument Museum (or, "MIM", as it is called) opened in Phoenix Arizona.  This morning, NPR's Morning Edition featured a story about this new, 190,000-square-foot museum which displays 10,000 instruments from over 200 countries. 

Among the many familiar instruments on view, a visitor can find exotic pieces from distant lands.  The beautiful Sindh sitar pictured above comes from India.   An African guitar made from a square Castrol oil can is featured, as well as a Burmese harp, a lyre from Kenya, and a Mongolian morin khuur, which looks like a square cello that is held between the knees and played with a bow.  On long-term loan is the Steinway piano on which John Lennon composed "Imagine".

Patrons use headphones to peruse the various exhibits and "hear" each one, as videos show musicians playing the instrument on display.  As a result, the music museum is one of the quietest museums in the world! (Click Here for the Museum Web Site.

I liked this story for a couple of reasons:

First, I lived in Phoenix in the late 1980's.  I love the warmth of the desert climate, which seems to be part of my very chemistry.  I still have a sentimental attachment there.  The condo where my grandparents lived has been passed down through our family.  We stay there on our annual visits, where Sam and Lucy (and their music) are always somehow present in its Southwestern/Italian simplicity.  Given Arizona's recent social and economic difficulties, it's good to see Phoenix become known for a beautiful center of culture, devoted to something universal and important.

(Had we made our last year's visit in April instead of March, we might have been one of the museum's first customers.)

The second reason I enjoyed this story has something vaguely to do with our current enthusiasm with the Awards Season.  We feverishly predict the possible Oscar nominees and winners in every category, and the Music branch has always been one of the most unpredictable and contentious of all.  Blog posts are already singing the praises--so to speak--of the various songs and original scores eligible for recognition.   And then there are the Grammys, MTV Music Awards, and Golden Globes, each with varying emphases on instrumental music.

The idea of a Musical Instrument Museum gives us a chance to pause and reconsider the most basic, even primitive, pleasures music gives us, the reasons we use comfort, as celebration. as ritual...why we make music....and how music in its many forms touches the lives of everyone, privileged or poor, educated or innocent.  By asking us to ponder the genesis of these instruments, which allowed full expression to the creative imaginations of the world's composers and musicians, the museum restores a sense of purity to this miraculous art form. 

It's nice to reflect on instrumental music, not as a vehicle for outrageous behavior or fashion excess, or as an entry in a contest, but as poetry without words, and a means for reconnecting with our better natures.

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