When we were in Phoenix/Scottsdale at the beginning of March for the Canucks road trip, the concierge at the JW Marriot Desert Resort suggested we go and visit the Musical Instrument Museum. He didn’t tell us much about it, and to be honest, it hadn’t really shown up in any of our pre-trip research. We pretty much forgot about it during our initial four day visit to Arizona.
It turned out to be located very close to a mall (Desert Ridge Marketplace on Tatum Road) that during our stay in Scottsdale, became our “go to” destination, for food, dining, movies, and shopping.
On the day we visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, we thought we would pop (no music pun intended…ok well maybe a little) over to the MIM and check it out for the last 90 minutes of the visiting hour day. As we walked toward the front door of a very modern and large building, Mary remarked “this is much more substantial than I thought it would be”. We approached a young man at the front desk and told him we were interested in visiting the museum and wondered how long we need to “do it justice”. He smiled and said “well you only have 90 minutes left before we close today, and you should probably allocate at least 3 hours for your visit”.
Armed with that information, we said we’d be back in the morning, and we headed off to our favourite mall for soup and a sandwich at the Paradise Bakery & Café. This was a place we visited so often during our 3 weeks there, we should have started earning “frequent eater rewards”, or something along those lines. Really, really good food, and wonderful deserts by the way.
Up early the next morning, we were back at the MIM, just a few minutes after 9 AM, and we figured we would spend the morning there, have some lunch and then go and do something else in the afternoon.
We happily forked over our $18 per person entrance fee, and we were handed a headset that would provide us with motion-activated, self-guided commentary throughout the entire museum. I have to say it was a pretty cool gizmo, and the only trick was that it had a somewhat limited range, so if you moved to far away from the sensor device, you either lost the audio, or suddenly found yourself listening to the wrong or different commentary.
A little background for you. The MIM opened it’s doors on April 24, 2010, and at its’ launch and to this day, it is the largest museum of its type in the world. MIM’s collection includes more than 15,000 musical instruments and artifacts, approximately six thousand of which are displayed at any one time. I can personally vouch for the size of the collection as I took over 800 pictures during our visit!
The first room you enter sets the tone for the entire visit. It is a collection of unique, historical and mostly stringed instruments.
As you leave that room, you ride an escalator located pretty much in the middle of the building, up to a hallway that extends a long way in either direction. For no particular reason, we headed left first and found ourselves entering a doorway into one of several rooms that showcased the music, musical instruments, and musical history of Asia.
As we came to realize throughout the day, the museum was divided into continents, and there were exhibits from (so they claim), every country in the world. As a stamp collector with a pretty good sense of world geography, I couldn’t come up with any they were missing.
At each station there was a vast array of musical instruments, and in most cases there were 3 or 4 video clips that brought to life the sounds and sights of the instruments on display. Not only were they worthwhile listening, they often helped illustrate how the instruments on display were made and/or played.
As we moved from room to room, I was absolutely blown (a little trumpet humour) away by the breadth and depth of the exhibits. Mary and I started off together but eventually wandered off in separate directions agreeing to meet back at certain times in specific areas.
We would see each other from time to time, and one of my favorite moments was when I happened upon her without her realizing I was there. She was standing in front of the Polka exhibit, and I knew that in that moment she was thinking about her dad, Al Bridgen.
The two of them loved to polka and I remember watching them out on the dance floor on our wedding night in 1978, at the Masonic Hall in Amherstburg. Al just loved that music and Mary was his favorite dance partner. I smiled warmly and inwardly at that memory.
There were displays on the history of recording studios, and there was an area celebrating Arizona’s own Linda Ronstadt, Waylon Jennings, Duane Eddy, Alice Cooper, and Buck Owens, just to name a few. As you could see from the picture of Mary looking at the Polka exhibit, there were celebrations of every type of music you could think of, from Hip-Hop to Country and every genre in between.
Having spent a considerable amount of my life playing both the piano and later the guitar, I particularly liked the exhibits pertaining to the instrument makers themselves, including Steinway, Martin and Fender
For all of my friends from LHS who remember me playing the tuba for 5 years, check out this trumpet-style tuba dating back to 1925. I can’t even imagine how one could play this thing.
There is an Artist Gallery room that features instruments and memorabilia from music stars and icons such as Carlos Santana, George Benson, Toby Keith, Eric Clapton, Taylor Swift and many more. This was a particular favorite of my mine, and I especially enjoyed the Roy Orbison exhibit;
The John Lennon “Imagine” piano;
This Steinway piano with a specially made Chihuly glass top on it;
And an extensive exhibit on Elvis, including his last guitar, and the efforts they are going to, to restore and maintain it.
In addition to the permanent displays, there are exhibitions that are brought in for 3-6 month periods. We were particularly fortunate to see “Women Who Rock, Vision, Passion, Power”, a travelling exhibition assembled by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Mary and I spent at least an hour with this special exhibit alone. It includes costumes, instruments, ticket stubs, sheet music, gold records, old 78’s, 33’s and 45’s, wigs, and videos. The women that it highlights and celebrates range from Bessie Smith and Mahalia Jackson, through Carol King and Janis Joplin, and right up to Rihanna and Lady Gaga. One of the newest additions to the travelling show is Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress that she wore to the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards. They have “preserved” it with the help of a taxidermist, of all things. Check it out below, along with a couple of other file photos from the show (this was the only room in the museum where photography was not allowed).
With a look at the substantial volume of the MIM’s content that I’ve shared with you, and just a smattering of the photos that I took that day, it will come as no surprise to you that our “plan” to spend the morning there was a “pipe dream”. Not including lunch in the on-site café, which was both good and very pricey, we spent 6 1/2 hours roaming the MIM. I know we could have gone back another day and easily duplicated that amount of time, watching different videos, reading more about the exhibits, and visiting the Experience Gallery which we didn’t even get to. That is where you get to bang, strum, pluck, hit, and play all kinds of instruments from different cultures around the world.
What a pleasant, stimulating, somewhat overwhelming (sensory overload), and wonderful experience we had at the MIM. Just another one of the unexpected surprises we have encountered on our “make it up as we go” adventure.