Universal Heritage and Musical Instrument Collections

Universal Heritage and Musical Instrument Collections
no. 2 > 2007
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Universal Heritage and Musical Instrument Collections
K e n M o o r e , CIMCIM, Frederick P. Rose Curator, Department of Musical Instruments, Metropolitan Museum of Art
ike many objects associated with an intangible
art, musical instruments transcend their physical form, serving globally as cultural symbols
identifying a time, place, and groups of people.
They take on even greater significance as icons of
rituals, as personifications of and mediators with
spirits, as agents in life-cycle events, and as bearers of innovative technology. Additionally, as
sound producers, instruments may provide aural
symbols evoking extra-musical concepts that
communicate ideas and feelings which are inexpressible any other way.
These concepts about music and its cultural importance are given shape and form through
the work of musical instrument museums and collections. So important to the human experience
are these objects that they are housed not only in
museums of music, but also in archeology, anthropology, art, technology, and natural history
museums, in institutions specializing in a region or
a musical genre, colleges and universities, in
music libraries, and historic homes. Here music’s
material culture is preserved and interpreted in
ways that illustrate a people’s preferred sound/aesthetics, the status and use and playing technique of
the instrument and what its sound and image
signifies. In these institutions issues and ethics of
conservation related to playing policies are addressed, and acoustical or mechanical investigation is
carried out. Visitors, administrators, and fundraisers may hold opinions and expectations that instruments should be functional –a situation which
An instrument might illustrate the co-existence of several philosophies,
as does the back of this Chinese Pipa.
Pipa. China, Ming Dynasty
Back view showing 120 ivory plaques and detailed view of Buddhists
Taoist, and Confucian symbols.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950. 50.145.74
contributes to the inevitable replacement of original materials as these elements are worn away with
repeated use– and the original maker’s hand is lost.
This interface between curators and conservators,
and the interests of the public, musicians, administrators and fundraisers creates a dynamic unlike
that of other types of objects.
The interpretive possibilities are vast as
curators choose to highlight an instrument’s
musical and technological development, its diffusion process, or its role as a healing agent or as
a cultural signifier. Displaying and preserving
musical instruments helps draw attention to
diverse musical traditions across time and space,
aids visitors in making connections between disparate cultures, and helps to preserve our universal musical heritage.
Email: [email protected]
(For the full webcast : http://portal.unesco.org/culture/fr/ev.php URL_ID=32653&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html)
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