Music is the language of our soul

Published 8:22 am Tuesday, May 7, 2013

One of the highlights of traveling is keeping your eye out for unexpected things. With a couple of hours to kill on a recent trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, I decided to follow the small sign directing travelers to the Musical Instrument Museum.

Having never heard of it, I did not have very high expectations, thinking it was most likely some local musician’s collection of instruments. Instead, I was treated to one of the most amazing museums I have ever visited in my entire life.

The Musical Instruments Museum, or “MIM,” has only been open three years. It is housed in a stunningly beautiful building that captures its setting and plays against it like a Beethoven masterpiece.

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Amazingly, the MIM has more than 15,000 instruments and artifacts in its collection, with more than 6,000 on display. They have collected instruments from every single country in the world and beautifully displayed them in a 200,000-square-foot building.

The oldest single instrument is a “paigu,” or hourglass drum, which is estimated to have been created between 5,000 B.C. and 4,000 B.C. The head of the drum was made from the skin of a frog or snake that was tied to hooks around the drum for tension.

Cutting edge technology only served to heighten the visit, with high-definition video and wireless high-quality headsets illustrating the instruments and music being played in their native settings. The museum has traveled to the farthest corners of the world to let you hear and see how other people communicate with sound.

If that were not impressive enough, the designers of the museum grouped everything by region, countries, continents, instruments, companies and even artists. You can even follow the evolution of music as humans moved over the ages and took their music with them.

Genres such as rock and roll, jazz, country and folk are also featured. Iconic companies like Steinway Piano and Fender electric guitars are creatively displayed, showing their influence on American music.

Individual artists, from Linda Ronstadt to Waylon Jennings to Alice Cooper, are showcased not only with memorabilia but with videos of timeless and memorable performances.

Instruments made of the world’s rarest woods are placed next to some made of a cow’s bladder and animal skin. One of the greatest messages of this place is how people in dramatically different environments managed to make instruments to convey their message in sound.

The most isolated people on earth still learned to speak with music. One exhibit stated that if not for music, the soul would have no language, even though we have the ear and heart to listen.

In a very effective way, the MIM illustrated that fact. Music is the way we can speak not only as individuals, but as groups. Music, as much as anything else, illustrates the differences in our cultures, even as it shows how much we all have in common.

Music has always touched my own soul, but never have I more clearly understood how it is indeed the language of the soul in all of us.

Dan Ponder can be reached at