PHOENIX (July 15, 2011) From a Wyoming cattle camp to a Victorian parlor, from a Philadelphia theater to a Civil War battlefield, music was an integral part of American life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The look and feel of that fascinating bygone era are beautifully encapsulated in The Power of Music: Photographic Portraits of Americans and Their Musical Instruments, 1860–1915, the featured traveling exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum, which will run from Sept. 24 to Nov. 27, 2011 in the museum’s Target Gallery and presented by APS. With sixty 24″ x 36″ photographs, tintypes, cartes de visite, cabinet cards, and other beguiling, sepia-toned images, the exhibition takes museumgoers into the lives of people from all walks of life in a turbulent and fast-changing period bracketed by the Civil War and World War I. This was the era of the Industrial Revolution and new innovations like the railroad, telephone, and telegraph—a time that oddly mirrors our own rapidly evolving technological zeitgeist.
“The most interesting point for me is that these are portraits,” notes MIM curator Christina Linsenmeyer. “These are people posing with musical instruments that represent their love of music or, in many cases, some sort of social standing. It’s part of their identity.”
To further bring the photos to life, the exhibit will be enhanced by early twentieth-century newsreel footage of musicians performing in the places where they lived and played, from country dances to churches to nightclubs. Also on display will be rare musical instruments from MIM’s own American collection, especially selected to match, as closely as possible, the instruments seen in the photos. For instance, a Zimmerman plucked zither from 1880–1890 is the exact same make and model of the instrument seen in one photo.
“We went through considerable care to match the images showing instruments with pieces from MIM’s collection,” says Linsenmeyer. “It was a really interesting exercise. ‘Okay, here’s a selection of photos with typical instruments from that era. So how well does MIM’s collection reflect that?’”
Other instrumental highlights include a Martin-style 2–32 parlor guitar from 1850–1867; an exquisite six-string piccolo banjo from the late nineteenth century, with Tunbridge-ware-style marquetry; an imposing reed organ, circa 1875, from the Smith Organ Company; a selection of over-the-shoulder horns used by marching bands of the time; and a John F. Luscomb banjo, circa 1890, that closely resembles one seen in a photo of flirtatious actress Theresa Vaughn.
“One of the main features will be the banjo, mandolin, and guitar groups of the day,” says Linsenmeyer. “We see the popularity of these instruments hitting the masses. But we also see soldiers, families, professional entertainers, vaudevillians. . . . It’s a fairly good cross section of humanity. And it’s not just the musical instruments. We see the fashions of the time—high collars, floor-length hems, and the short ties and big collars worn by vaudeville entertainers. It’s a slice of time. And, in many cases, you get this direct eye contact with the people in the photos, which really gives them an ethereal quality.”
Oddly formal, yet profoundly human, these portraits reach out across the years to tell us that, then as now, music holds the key to our hearts.
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MIM enriches the world community by collecting, preserving, and making accessible high-quality musical instruments, images, and music from every country in the world. We celebrate our world’s diverse musical cultures and foster global understanding by offering our guests an incomparable interactive experience, a welcome and fun environment, dynamic programming, and exceptional musical performances.
Erin Kozak, Media Relations Specialist