Plink, Plank, Plunk

Yesterday, Peg and I ventured out into the big world to visit the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Back in January, while driving into town I spotted a bill board advertising the place. It only took twelve weeks for us to make it there, now I am sorry we did. This museum like most museums is so large that it takes more than one visit to see it all. The museum is new, very modern in design, two stories tall, and huge. Within its walls are instruments from every country in the world. Do you know how many countries exist? I don’t even remember how many continents there are, and that is important because the country displays are within rooms classified as continents. Only the United States and Canada are separate rooms because they are so big, and well, because the museum is in the United States.

We used the escalator to move us up to the second level where a tour guide asked us where we wanted to start. We chose to begin in Africa. That was a bad move because we spent over an hour and a half looking at the primitive flutes, and lutes of the various countries within Africa. MIM has a unique display for each country. The instruments are flat against a wall or supported in mid-air on display around a video screen. We received a headset and a black box at the ticket counter. The unique feature of this black box is that when one walks to within range of a video screen it begins to play a video of natives playing the instruments on display. This allowed us to hear the instrument and to see it played. Many of the videos showed scenes of native craftsman chopping, carving, and sanding wood to shape it into something they could make sound with. Strings are usually animal hair or other body part. One instrument called the thumb-harp has a series of metal fork-like handles attached to a sound box. As the musician plunks the various length metal prongs they plink, plank, or plunk into the sound box to make a note.

By the time we hit Asia, Peg and I were beginning to fade. She carries a purse loaded with at least ten pounds of stuff and I carry a bowling ball belly that plays hell with my back. We literally raced through the Mid-east, South America, and Europe, and intended to skip the USA and Canada. As it turned out I got lost in Europe and we wound up running through North America. That is when I began to get glimpses of some fabulous displays and regretted our move to start in Africa and not North America.

While in the African room, I looked at a map of the continent which displayed all the different languages spoken in Africa. I quickly realized why Africa is still so primitive. Imagine if we lived in a place where every state is a country and every county within a state has its own language. I have enough trouble understanding regional dialects much less different languages. There exists, however, a universality among these many people s. It is in their musical instruments. Somehow, the good Lord gave us all a talent and want to create music, and deep within our brains is the blueprint for how to make sounds using tubes, skins, and strings. Just about every country has a form of stringed lute, drum, and flute.

Peg and I hope to return and to begin the tour counter-clockwise the next time.  Here are a few photos of the displays.

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