How to hear the Met's historic instruments
Musical instruments are famous for their singular sounds. Have you ever been struck by how odd it is to see them in glass display cases? If so, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hears you loud and clear. It recently renovated its music galleries. They now include a new audio collection. It is available via gallery listening kiosks. You can also use your smartphone. Now visitors can enjoy the sounds of instruments they see. They can do this as they walk through the museum’s halls.
The recordings feature roughly 40 instruments. That's according to Hyperallergic’s Claire Voon. They include a Ming dynasty pipa. It includes four-string plucked lute. And it includes the world’s oldest surviving piano.
The piano is an Italian masterpiece. Bartolomeo Cristoforiis the instruments inventor. He also crafted the piano. He made it in 1720. Most of the Met’s 5,000 or so instruments are very fragile. They are also rare. They cannot be played. That's according to Bradley Strauchen-Scherer. She is the associate curator of musical instruments. But “a generous handful” are still in working condition.
Curators turned to musicians well-versed in their craft. They did this in order to recreate the instruments’ former glory. For instance, horn player R.J. Kelley recorded a song. It was on a 19th-century orchestral horn. It requires users to play without valves.
The Met’s reimagined galleries are presented under one title. It is “The Art of Music.” The galleries are organized by musical family. They are also organized by historical period. That's according to ArtDaily.org. There are 600 or so instruments on display. These span two millennia. They span five continents. This allows visitors to trace the role of music across time and space. They can see how it shows status. They can see how it shows identity. And they can see how it shows spirituality.
Exhibition highlights include the Thomas Appleton pipe organ. It is one of the country’s oldest functioning examples of the instrument. Also included are four electric guitars. Each represents a different season. They were created by master luthier John Monteleone. He made them between 2002 and 2006.
“The Art of Music” highlights the sounds of musical instruments. But it also points out their significance. It does this within wider historical narratives. That's according to Hyperallergic’s Elena Goukassian. It does this by juxtaposing artifacts.
For instance, take a 19th-century gong wielded by wooden statues of oni. Oni are ferocious creatures. They are from Japanese folklore. Then compare it to an 18th-century French harpsichord-turned-piano decorated with East Asian-esque landscapes. Each instrument is crafted to appeal to the other’s culture. This is how the exhibit nudges visitors to draw connections between seemingly different histories.
An upcoming trip to the Met might not be on your agenda. But you can still access the recordings. They are online. You can get them on Soundcloud or Google Arts & Culture. Be sure to check back soon. Strauchen-Scherer tells Voon that the museum’s department of musical instruments hopes to create new recordings on a yearly basis. Do you want to watch the instruments in action? Visit the Met’s YouTube channel.