If you are ever in the Phoenix, Arizona area, I recommend you spend a few hours at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). This world-class cultural center will delight your senses. I’ve gone five times, and I look forward to going again. The MIM was founded by Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and chairman emeritus of Target Corporation.
The MIM opened in April, 2010. Although the building is relatively new, its organic style makes it seem like it’s been there forever. That was intentional. Architect Rich Varda designed it to evoke the topography of the Southwest. Indian sandstone is the primary element on the building’s façade. Patterns on the floors, walls, and ceilings suggest the geological striations of the Arizona landscape. The museum encompasses 200,000 square feet on two floors.
The MIM has more than 15,000 musical instruments and artifacts, approximately six thousand of which are displayed at a time and includes specimens from two hundred countries and territories around the world. The exhibits are arranged by country and continent. Many of the instruments are works of art as well. Did you know that every region of the world has its own unique version of bagpipe?
Guests to the museum are issued headphones with compact receivers. An audio guide installed on the device plays the sounds of instruments at each exhibit. Guests are not required to follow any particular route through the museum or maintain a pre-ordained pace. Hidden identifiers installed at the exhibits cue the audio guides automatically to exactly the right sound track. Totally high-tech. Many exhibits also include video monitors showing instruments being played by native musicians, or performers dancing, or scenes from Chinese opera, or other music-related topics.
The Artist Gallery
One room on the first floor is devoted to instruments belonging to famous musicians. Just a few items on loan are the piano John Lennon wrote Imagine on; guitars from Johnny Cash, Carlos Santana, Toby Keith and others; ukuleles from Jake Shimabukuro; costumes and guitars belonging to Elvis Presley; a cello from Pablo Casals, Joshua Bell’s first violin, and a ukelele, 6-string banjo, piano, and gown all belonging to Taylor Swift.
One of the favorite exhibits for children (and adults) of all ages is the Experience Gallery, where guests can try out drums, xylophones, harps, guitars, and even a huge gong.
Allow yourself enough time to browse the store. It’s like another wing of the museum. It usually takes me 45 minutes to satisfy my curiosity about the instruments, books, and crafts from all over the world that are available for sale.
Have lunch (11:00 to 2:00) at the MIM. The Café is committed to using fresh, locally grown ingredients. They serve a variety of entrees including global cuisine, local and regional dishes, vegetarian and vegan options, and fresh-made soups and salads. I ate my very first sweet potato fries at the MIM. They were so tasty, and such a generous portion I had to share them with my companion. Now, the menu constantly changes, so please don’t be disappointed if they don’t have fries when you’re there.
The MIM’s intimate performance venue seats only 300. Because of optimal acoustics, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. It hosts 200 concerts a year, many of them by ethnic artists. I had the pleasure of hearing Makana, a Hawaiian slack-key guitarist, play there a couple of years ago. Check out up-coming concerts on the website. They often embed a Youtube video so that you can hear what the artist sounds like.
The Musical Instrument Museum is located at 4725 E Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix AZ 85050 (near the Tatum Blvd exit off the Loop 101). Hours are 9 am-5 pm almost every day. General admission is $20, so plan to spend a few hours. I promise you won’t be bored. For more details, visit their website at mim.org.