Museum Hosts Musical Instruments Of 200 Countries A museum in Arizona houses roughly 10,000 instruments, gathered from around the world. One woman went into a Somali refugee camp for some of them, while others came from even more remote places. Presented together in Phoenix, they tell the story of instrumental music.
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Museum Hosts Musical Instruments Of 200 Countries

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Museum Hosts Musical Instruments Of 200 Countries

Museum Hosts Musical Instruments Of 200 Countries

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Now let's move from natural resources to a cultural resource: music. A new $250 million museum in Phoenix is collecting the tools of that trade.

NPR's Ted Robbins visited the Musical Instrument Museum.

TED ROBBINS: Instead of "Name That Tune," let's play "Name That Instrument."

(Soundbite of trumpet playing)

ROBBINS: That's a trumpet, of course. Now try this one.

(Soundbite of morin khuur playing)

ROBBINS: A fiddle? Nope. It's a morin khuur from Mongolia, a stringed instrument with a body that looks like a square guitar. It's held in the lap and played with a bow.

(Soundbite of guitar playing)

ROBBINS: That's a guitar. You might have guessed, but you'd never guess that its body is made out of a rectangular Castrol oil can from South Africa. These are three of 10,000 instruments in the collection of the Musical Instrument Museum.

The MIM, as its becoming known, calls itself the world's largest global instrument museum. But when you first walk in, it's sort of a shock - the museum is quiet, even though it's...

Dr. BILL DEWALT (Director, Musical Instrument Museum): It's one of the most quiet museums you'll ever be in, because everybody is listening to the sound through the headphones.

ROBBINS: That's museum director Bill DeWalt. The headphones make sense. The place would have been cacophonous with all the instruments playing out loud. Instead, wireless headphones activate when you walk up to a display, which has the instrument itself and a video showing a musician playing it in its native setting.

(Soundbite of flamenco music)

ROBBINS: The experience is private, just you and the headphones. But it's also communal, since the person next to you is hearing the same thing at the same time.

(Soundbite of drums)

ROBBINS: Carol Gadd is making her second visit here, this time without her family so she can concentrate on the differences in musical cultures.

Ms. CAROL GADD: Yeah, especially the Latin-American countries, I thought I knew a lot of the beats. And I guess I was wrong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GADD: Like the Cuban beats and the Puerto Rican beats.

(Soundbite of song, "Imagine")

Mr. JOHN LENNON (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) Imagine all the people...

ROBBINS: Some to the individual instruments here are iconic.

(Soundbite of song, "Imagine")

Mr. LENNON: (Singing) ...sharing all the world...

ROBBINS: For instance, the museum has the light-brown, upright Steinway piano John Lennon used when he composed "Imagine."

Mr. LENNON: (Singing) You can say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one...

ROBBINS: Lennon's piano is on long-term loan. Most instruments were bought from collectors or found in utterly remote places.

Museum director Bill DeWalt tells the story of a curator trying to get Somali instruments, but she couldn't get into Somalia.

Dr. DEWALT: And so what she was able to actually do was to embed herself in a U.N. convoy that was going to a refugee camp in eastern Kenya - Somali refugees. And she was able to collect Somalian instruments from those refugees living in the camp.

ROBBINS: The building and the collection were financed by Bob Ulrich, the founder and former CEO of Target Stores. Instruments from 200 countries are on display. Each is different, yet overall, a drum is a drum - whether it's from New Guinea... [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Bob Ulrich was CEO of Target Stores, but not a founder of the company.]

(Soundbite of drumming)

ROBBINS: ...or Africa...

(Soundbite of drumming)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

ROBBINS: ...or North America.

(Soundbite of drumming)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

Dr. DEWALT: Music is something that is played in the same kinds of situations everywhere. It's played for celebrations. It's played for funerals. It's played as part of military pageants. People everywhere in the world have felt this need to create these amplifiers of human emotion.

ROBBINS: Now, thousands of those emotion amplifiers are in one place.

Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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