November, 2020 Update: It’s music to our ears! The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix is open again following its closure due to COVID-19. Of course, there are new safety measures in place, including enhanced sanitization, social distancing requirements, and minimal-contact ticket purchasing and admission. Café Allegro remains closed. For complete details to plan your MIM experience, visit the Musical Instrument Museum website.
MIM — Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix
If you live in or will be visiting the Phoenix Metro area, make sure to visit the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). It’s a thoroughly enlightening musical, cultural, and geographical experience and a must-see attraction to include on any itinerary.
We spent about three hours at the museum and felt we were able to get a great introduction to the wide-ranging exhibits, but could well have spent several hours. I hope this post and the selected photos will give you an idea of the wide range of displays at the museum.
Showcasing the big, wonderful world of music and culture
Opened in 2010, MIM allows visitors to take a virtual journey around the world with its extensive exhibits of musical instruments and cultural perspectives. As you move around the galleries, wireless headphones tune in automatically to the audio of videos of the instruments being played in cultural context at performances, rituals, and festivals of cultures around the world.
The museum’s collection includes over 13,600 instruments and artifacts, both ancient and contemporary, from more than 200 countries and territories. About 6,800 are on exhibit at any given time. The oldest instrument is a paigu goblet drum from China that is said to have been made between 5000 and 4000 BCE.
It was in these global geographic galleries that we spent the most time. From one exhibit to the other, it was like taking an immersive journey to other worlds. The instruments are fascinating artifacts to view, and the accompanying large-scale photographs, original costumes, related art, and cultural performance videos really make the experience. I thought it was interesting to find the commonalities of some instruments across cultures as well as those that that are unique to a people or place in composition, sound, and significance.
Asia and Oceania — East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and Central Asia and the Caucasus
Africa and Middle East
Latin America — South America, Central America and Mexico, and the Caribbean
United States and Canada
Inside the Artist Gallery you have a chance to get up close to their signature instruments and other artifacts of famous musical artists have been donated or on loan for the collections. The descriptive plaques and videos are informative and entertaining. Some of the performers you’ll recognize are Tito Puente, Maroon 5, Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell, Leonard Bernstein, Pablo Casals, Ravi Shankar, Black Eyed Peas, Buddy Rich, and Carlos Santana.
Don’t miss the Clara Rockmore exhibit with a theremin, a rather strange form of touchless instrument played by the movement of hands around the device. It was created in the early 1900s as a result of sensor research by the Soviets. Clara is the most famous of those who have played the theremin musicians.
Mechanical Music Gallery
The Mechanical Music Gallery has a fun collection of player pianos and other instruments that effectively play themselves as they are mechanically programmed on pinned cylinders or music rolls. We were lucky to be there in time for a demonstration of gallery’s highlight, Apollonia, a large dance organ, the kind that was commonly found in musical halls in Belgium and the Netherlands in the late 19th century to the 1960s. Apollonia has organ pipes, drums, accordions, saxophones, and a xylophone that appear to operate as if a musician was playing them.
And there’s more!
Given your time and interests, these are other places to consider seeing at MIM. They are on my list for future visits.
- The Target Gallery has special exhibitions that require a separate ticket for admission. At the time of our visit, The Electric Guitar: Inventing an American Icon was featured in the gallery. (MIM was founded by a former Target Corporation CEO, Robert J. Ulrich.)
- The Experience Gallery gives everyone a chance to play instruments like some of those found in the museum. There is also the Encore Gallery where children can play instruments and have fun in other activities.
- The Collier STEM Gallery is an educational gallery with videos and displays focused on the connections between music and science and technology.
- The Conservation Lab provides a behind-the-scenes look at how the museum maintains and restores instruments.
- In the MIM Music Theater, there are live performances by global artists of all genres.
- Café Allegro is open for lunch with indoor and outdoor seating. The menu (which changes daily) includes global and local dishes.
Food and drink tip: Food and beverages, including water, are not allowed anywhere in the museum besides the Café Allegro and the Family Center on the ground floor. So be sure to hydrate beforehand and take a café break.
Comfort tip: On the hot summer day we visited, we found the air conditioning to be turned up quite high. In case the same is true when you go to MIM, have a sweater ready to be comfortable. Of course, your preferences and circumstances may be different!
Timing tip: Although I usually find that two hours in any museum is about all I like to spend (either information overload or I just don’t have the time), I would suggest that MIM is worthy of several hours. Even then, you might want to come back again. If you can plan a full day, take a break at the café for lunch or snacks in between galleries. Living in nearby Scottsdale, I’m lucky that I’ll be able to return to be able to explore more and revisit favorite parts of the museum.
Membership tip: If you’re a local and plan on making return visits during the year, you may want to consider a membership. There are other membership benefits as well.