Musical Instrument Museum: A Band Geek's Paradise

Band geeks, rejoice: By the end of next month Phoenix will be home to the world's largest exhibition of musical instruments.

The new Musical Instrument Museum, a 190,000-square foot space at Tatum and Mayo, near where the 51 and 101 intersect, is set to open on April 24. Pop music talismans like John a Lennon piano and one of Eric Clapton's guitars will be on loan to the museum for a while, but the real focus of the museum is world music, embodied by more than 12,000 instruments from around the globe, as I saw when touring the space with other members of the media Friday.

The $250 million museum is divided geographically, and hopes to have an instrument from nearly every nation on earth shortly after opening. No word on whether they'll get a Radio Nauru exhibit together, or have an empty cabin cracker can from Tavalu on display, but here's hoping.

The bigger, more diverse countries get more space, as you can imagine, with places like India claiming their due with three walls. The U.S. of A and Canada get the hometown treatment with a large area dedicated to exploring Native American music and various regional musical traditions, like polka and tejano.

Most of the MIM's exhibits aren't yet finished, so it's hard to say what everything will look like when it comes together, but the technological backbone of the experience is certainly solid. Every exhibit has at least one flat-screen television showing the instruments on display in action. Obviously, this would create quite a cacophony if they all had speakers blaring, which is why visitors will be given a headset which plays the appropriate sounds at each station. It'll indeed be odd to walk around a space filled with so many silent instruments, each visitor listening to his own little iPod of sorts, but it's the only way to make it work.

The museum also has a 299-seat (300 is different zoning, we're told) theater that will house performances by a number of world music types. Look for show announcements in the coming days.

With all that said, I think this is a museum for musicians, first and foremost. I don't play anything -- or haven't since eighth grade, anyway -- so, unlike my tour mates, I was not overcome by the same burning desire to touch what I saw. Throughout our tour, I watched professional journalists ogle the instruments, seemingly doing everything they could not to reach out and strum, tap, or blow them. That's not my thing, but I can respect it. If you are (ahem) a hopeless band geek -- or just a lover of world music -- you're about to find Nirvana in north Phoenix.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar