I had the most interesting experience yesterday.
A visit with friends brought about an unexpected invitation to a place called the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). I had heard about MIM in my travels, but never had occasion to visit, so I jumped at the opportunity—for such opportunities don’t come around often, and we need to make the time.
We didn’t get there until about 2:30pm, which was unfortunate, because one could spend all day in just one of the many galleries. I was especially looking forward to the try-it-yourself gallery where I could try out many of the instruments about which I was going to learn. My regular readers know that what I really wanted to experience were the guitars and stringed instruments.
Our first stop was a series of guitars—some owned by famous people of this or that ilk. It’s a small gallery on the first floor with all kinds of interesting guitars. My favorite was the clear, Lucite guitar. Something about see-through materials….
We poked around a little more on the first floor, experiencing the Tibetan horns, a giant bass (about the size of a giant squid), and the most interesting purplish-pinkish saxophone.
But then, we donned our electronic docents and headed upstairs…and that’s when this nobody’s heart was kicked up a beat.
The upstairs galleries at MIM are divided into continents and countries—each with a selection of the local instruments and a video screen. When you stand in front of the screen, your headphones immediately tune into what’s playing on the screen. You get to hear the instruments you’re looking at and see a bit of the local culture surrounding the instruments.
Of particular interest was the Africa room. At one exhibit (I can’t remember for sure—it might have been the Democratic Republic of the Congo), I stood in amazement in front of a selection of guitars made out of gas cans. That’s right, gas cans. These weren’t the fancy schmancies from downstairs, but a whole new assortment of wonder. Before my eyes, the exhibit screen changed, and there was a man on the streets in a little shop playing one of the gas-can guitars. His name wasn’t Elvis, Les Paul, or C.F. Martin. It wasn’t even Justin Bieber or Joe Satriani. Nope. He was just a guy playing a gas-can guitar on the streets of a country on a continent far away. He didn’t have, at least as far as I could tell, throngs of fans. Just his stool and a little shop.
And the sound he produced was incredible. Amazing. I stood in front of the exhibit and waited for the screen to cycle a few times so I could listen again. I called my friends over and they were stunned as well. In fact, that fascination resonated throughout many of the exhibits. Regular people like you and me, living regular lives, had a unique opportunity to showcase their talents, and now they are on display at MIM for all to marvel.
I could be wrong, but for them, just like you and me, I’m guessing these opportunities don’t come around that often….
The galleries started to close around 5 (yes, 5 on a Saturday), and I made my way to the instrument encounter area. On the wall hung some Martin guitars. My friend and I tried to tune them, in vain, and instead watched all the little kids banging on drums, xylophones, and other various instruments that have seen the hands of thousands of would-be performers. These children were having the best time. To the adults, it was a cacophony of noise. But for the kids? Well, their “noise” might as well have been a symphony to their own ears.
I smiled. Was I witnessing the birth of the next Paul McCartney? Paul Simon? Would that boy and girl banging bongos be a new Fleetwood Mac? Are these musical references pinning a date on me?
I went about my day after that. Finished out the evening in a rainstorm on a cold, blustery night unlike any I’ve seen this year. Watched some football. Had some pizza. Got back to the business of a life outside the Musical Instrument Museum.
But before I turned in, I opened up my own guitar case and pulled out my Simon & Patrick 6-string acoustic…a guitar that has brought me so much joy, wherein I have felt the chill of music rolling up and down my spine that the folks on the video screens at MIM likely felt in their own way in their own countries in their own rooms. In the quiet of the night, I noted that it wasn’t the most expensive guitar in the shop, and I don’t play it with the greatest aplomb. Nope. I’m just nobody-in-particular plucking out nothing special to no one at all.
But then I remembered that we didn’t have time to look in one more gallery at MIM—a room of famous performers. As I held my guitar on my lap I smiled, because when I peeked into that gallery on my way out, I remember seeing all these “famous” names of rock, pop, jazz, and soul. People whose talents were just as good as the “anonymous” Cuban trio in the Cuba exhibit, the Inuit drummers in the U.S./Canada exhibit, and, yes, the gas-can guitarist from Congo.
I laid my guitar lovingly back in its case and shut the light. That night, my head was full of musical dreams of a different kind. Far from YouTube fame and the desire for throngs of fans were simpler themes—not the least of which was the hope that one day, I would be able to find that guy in Africa, hear him play a private concert on the street, and buy one of his gas-can guitars.