Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The National Music Museum, A National Treasure Indeed

It’s hard to believe that three weeks ago today was our first full day in South Dakota. It seems so long ago. Last week was a blur of constant motion, getting back into the swing of things, unpacking and doing laundry and grocery shopping and catching up on emails and blogs and friends here locally. Now I have to think back to all we saw and did…

I usually do a day-by-day accounting of my trips, but today I just want to write about the National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD, on the campus of the University of South Dakota.

We visited two college campuses while on the trip, which reminded me that I love the whole college campus atmosphere. The buildings, the houses, the green lawns and sidewalks and sculptures and flowers and benches and overall look and feel of the place. They took me right back to the memories of my own.

They also reminded me that my son will be going off to school in the next few years, and for the first time, I was actually comfortable with the idea. I can picture him living in that kind of setting and atmosphere, and I think with his love of learning, he will thrive.

My son, in fact, was the reason we went to the National Music Museum. For our itinerary, I chose only places I thought would interest him, because I don’t care…I’ll go to museums of any kind.

We arrived just before noon and had a picnic of peanut butter sandwiches, assorted fruits and vegetables, and grandma’s home made chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies in the shade under a tree just outside the building before going inside. The building itself is not overly large or imposing, not like the national museums in Washington DC, just your basic stone museum-type building--so I didn’t expect much from the inside. Figured we’d be through it in an hour or two, ho hum, been there, done that.

Three hours later I still hadn’t seen everything, but was dead on my feet and hungry, in need of both a place to sit and something to boost my blood sugar.

That is one place I am going back to, first chance I get. And one place I would love to endow, should I be blessed enough to become anyone’s benefactor.

Call me cloistered, but they had the most amazing setup I have come across in a museum. They had nine galleries, full of instruments spanning five centuries from the Renaissance to Rock and Roll. Stradivarius violins, mandolins, and cellos, harpsichords, lutes, lyres, Civil War and slave instruments, banjos, fiddles, brass instruments, wind and reed instruments, guitars, organs of every shape and size, player pianos, a Nickelodeon.

They had instruments that were invented, but never took off, or fell into disuse when something better came along, and instruments owned by famous people or used in movies. There was a room of non-western music, with instruments and drums from places like India, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Africa, Iraq, the Pacific islands, and so forth. That room alone took ages to get through…

Why? Because in most galleries I’ve been in, you look at the object on display, read the accompanying plaque, and move on. But here, upon paying the $7 admission fee, ($3 for students) each of us was given an iPhone type device with headphones. It had a pointer, but your finger worked just as well. You tapped on what gallery you were in, and a screen opened with pictures of the numbered exhibits. You tapped on the picture of, say, a harpsichord, and a voice told you the story of that harpsichord.

Your next option was to tap on the word music, which allowed you to hear what the instrument sounded like. A full song. So walking between exhibits, you could listen to music. And you could play it over and over again, as many times as you liked.

Each person in there was on their own personal tour, at some different point in the tour or room, listening to what interested them. It was quiet, peaceful and totally full of music. (They even have virtual tours. Check it out!) If you need to research anything musical, this is one place you want to contact.

Like I said, three hours later I still hadn’t listened to everything. The one thing I would recommend—but where would they find the space?—are benches like you find in art galleries in ALL the galleries, so that visitors can sit and rest their feet as they listen to all the different instruments. Walking for three hours is hard enough—standing for that length of time when you’re not used to it gets wearing. We had to leave the museum long before any of us were finished experiencing all the exhibits.

And where did we go? To a restored drug store soda fountain a few miles down the road, where each of us ordered something different, made the old-fashioned way. I had a chocolate ice cream soda, my son a cream soda float, grandma a miniature banana split, and grandpa a sundae. A nice way to cap off an afternoon of pure musical enjoyment.

1 comment:

Morgan Mandel said...

Sounds kind of high tech with the ipod-like things they lent out. A fun place I never heard of before.

Morgan Mandel