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Museum is music to ears--and eyes

 A child turns heads with a sonata on a Steinway at the Musical Instrument Museum.
Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 10/14/2012

RHYTHMS OF THE Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played through my headset. I was wishing for a longer selection when wisps of Schubert came to my ears. What!?

I removed the headset. The Dirt Band disappeared, replaced entirely by the classical composer. I spun around. The answer to my question was a small girl, concentrating, head down, on a grand piano in a nearby hallway.

It happened during my recent first look at the Musical Instrument Museum on the far north side of Phoenix.

The girl drew a small crowd--even a security guard was rapt.

The piano was there, as a MIM spokesperson explained, for anyone who wishes to play.

What an amazing place! I wondered if there is another like it. The answer seems to be probably not, at least in the United States.

The MIM isn't actually about the instruments--although there are 15,000 of them in its collection, representing about 200 countries. It is about music itself, in all its gloriously diverse forms, in all the countries of the world. Music is, after all. a language of its own, "The Language of the Soul," as the MIM's credo puts it.

The man behind this remarkable new facility isn't even from Phoenix. He is Robert Ulrich, chairman emeritus of Target Corp., the Minneapolis retail giant familiar to shoppers everywhere.

According to Erin Miller, media relations person for the MIM, Ulrich and his friend, Marc Felix, got the idea after visiting a museum in Brussels.

He chose the Phoenix site for its weather and accessibility, and work began in early 2008. Two years and nearly a quarter-billion dollars later, the 200,000-square-foot museum opened. It may be a Phoenix site, but this is a world-class museum of the music of mankind.

Galleries on the first floor are arranged by performer and music genre. On the second floor, galleries are essentially geographic--by continents.

What made this place so entertaining and informative was moving from exhibit to exhibit, artist by artist, wearing headphones. You walk toward an exhibit of Eric Clapton, for instance, and there's his Gibson guitar--he played "Layla" on it. As you watch a video of him performing, you hear several selections. It's all tied together, visual and audio.

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