Thursday, November 28, 2019

A gem of a museum

Stanley - Thursday

A couple of months ago I went to an event at a private home in one of the western suburbs of Minneapolis. The event was a reading by a woman from Kenya, who had a remarkable story to tell. The house was fabulous and included an African art museum.

After the discussion, I wandered around the museum admiring some wonderful pieces. I started talking to a gentleman who was doing likewise. Lowell Pickett is his name. During the conversation, I mentioned I was going to be in Scottsdale for an event at Poisoned Pen. He asked when that was gong to be. I told him - November 5 - and he said that was a pity because on November 8, an exhibit of Congolese masks was going to open at the Musical Instrument Museum, also in Scottsdale.

Of course, I groaned because I collect African masks. He must have taken pity because he said that if I could be at the museum at 3 pm on the 5th of November, he'd arrange for me (and Michael, of course) to get in. I was thrilled.

Two days later, I was having lunch with a Minneapolis couple who have hosted Michael and me at several of their book club's meetings. During the discussion, I mentioned I was heading to Scottsdale in the near future. Both immediately said I should find time to go to the fabulous Musical Instrument Museum.

In two days, three people had recommended a museum I'd never heard of.

Fast forward to November 5th.

We arrived at the museum and met Lowell. He gave us some information to help us get the most of the museum before he met us to take us to the Congolese mask exhibit. It turns out that Lowell is the artistic director of the museum's music theatre and, if my memory serves me well, curates about 240 performances a year.

At the museum
The museum is fantastic, even to non-musicians like Michael and me. For the most part, it is arranged by geographical area.

The geographical areas (Mr Trump must have some input because I notice Greenland is tied to North America not Europe.)

So there is an Africa section, an Asia section, and so on. As one walks up to an exhibit within one of the area, say Zululand, the headphones start playing the music of the instrument in question. And the music is from a video of someone in Zululand playing the instrument. Many of the videos also show the dancing that so often accompanies African music.

It was very interesting to see how similar instruments vary across, say West Africa, as do the rhythms and melodies.

The museum is a thing of beauty, designed and built specifically for its purpose.

Michael at the entrance
Here are some of the instruments I saw before heading for the masks. They are not in geographical order.

The instruments are also linked to cultural clothing and art works

From one of the videos

South African musicians need to be very creative to have something to play.

Made from old hacksaw blades

Of course, I had to visit the Denmark area.

How do you play that?

And I was surprised to find a corner dedicated to our own Caro!

This is a beauty.
There are small instruments and big.

There is also an area where you can sit down and play a variety of instruments. (You should have heard Michael playing the marimba.)

Play area

Play area
One of my favourite exhibits was the air guitar!

There was no way we could see all the museum had to offer in the few hours we were there, but the samples we saw were truly wonderful.

It was then time to head to the sneak preview of the Congolese mask exhibit. What a treat!

This was front and centre as we walked in.

It blew me away!
But wait, there's more.

All I can say, is how fortunate I was to run into Lowell and my other friends. Without them, I would never had known about this gem of a museum.

I'd say that it is a must-see!

And a happy Thanksgiving to all of our American readers.


  1. That looked a fabulous visit! The more rudimentary instruments reminded me of the skiffle music to used to play in Glasgow. My uncle went to school with Lonnie Donegan, and for some reason, that ensured that Cumberland Gap was a favourite.

  2. I love that museum and try to go there every time I'm in Scottsdale. As you say, it's a gem and impossible to fully appreciate in one visit. I also like the gift shop...