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The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix is a Rocking Good Time

Where: 4725 E. Mayo Boulevard [map], Phoenix, Arizona, United States, 85050
June 11, 2014 at 4:03 PM | by | ()

We've been pretty vocal about our excitement for the season of live music, aka summer, and have dished on a number of opportunities to get into the spirit in the coming months. That, coupled with our upcoming trip to discover new realms at the Rainforest Music Festival in Kuching, it's time we pay homage to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, a place that sparked our appreciation of the world's musical offerings.

If you think the name - or the fact that it's a museum - makes it sound like a snooze, we've got an eye-opening wake up call for you: It is one of the most engaging displays of culture we've ever visited, and a must for any self-professed music lover.

Overall, the museum is a collection of musical theories and stylings from around the world. The main, permanent exhibit houses over 15,000 instruments from 200 countries (6,000 on display at a time). That in itself is enough for a visit, but the audio and video components of the museum are what really makes it come alive.

Upon entering the museum, each guest is given an audio headset, but it's not for an additional audio tour in the usual sense. It's actually part of the normal museum experience. Each country is represented by a display that features a television and streaming music, which you can only hear when wearing the headset. Each exhibit is wired to detect when you approach it, and so it will automatically begin streaming that country's music to you as you walk up.

For us, one of the coolest parts of this audio feature is that you get to "window shop" in a sense. As you walk down a row of exhibits, your headset will automatically detect your location and begin to play music from the nearest country's display. So, you might be making your way over to Sweden, but as you walk down the row, you hear a beautiful instrument that catches your ear. All of a sudden, you are drawn into the South Sudan exhibit, never knowing you were interested before. That's pretty cool, when a museum can pull you in directions you never planned to go, and for this reason, wandering around the MIM is pretty painless.

If you're into the musicians themselves, you'll want to spend some time in the Artist Gallery, home to a collection of some of the world's biggest musical successes and personalities. Think Steve Vai, Elvis Presley, and Eric Clapton. The exhibits have the performer's instruments, story, artifacts, and music on display, as well as some sort of visual entertainment, usually a music video or live concert.

As much as the MIM stands alone as a museum, it's also a performing arts and educational center. Concerts are frequent, and an "Experience Gallery" lets you play some of the instruments you see on display (better for kids than adults). In a behind the scenes look, the Conservation Lab, shown above, gives you a peak at how the instruments are maintained and preserved.

Poke around for an afternoon on your next visit, and we'll be surprised if it doesn't tickle your travel bug as much as it strums your eardrums.

[Photos: Will McGough]

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