One man’s dream to build a museum dedicated to musical instruments from around the world became a reality last month as a $250 million global musical instrument museum rises out of the Sonoran desert in north Phoenix.
From bagpipes to bongos, the World’s First Global Musical Instrument Museum, or MIM, features sax appeal and more than 12,000 instruments and objects collected by the museum.
Former Target stores chairman Bob Ulrich founded the MIM, inspired by a visit to a musical instrument museum in Brussels, Belgium.
“There is nothing that really covers the world in music and yet day in and day out what has more impact on people’s lives than music?” Ulrich said. “It really did intrigue me to do something that had not been done before in the world. That’s what really made it quite exciting.”
The two-story, 190,000 square-foot museum sits on 20 acres at Tatum Boulevard, south of the Loop 101 near the Mayo Clinic Hospital.
The entrance features soft, cream colors, big picture windows that let light in and a grand staircase that creates a symphony hall feel. The windows in the staircase will look like piano keys when the building is lighted at night.
A restaurant and gift shop are on the first floor along with an auditorium for guest concerts and gatherings, and children on field trips will have their own special entrance and gathering place.
“We’ve got about 280-some exhibits that relate to every country in the world, relate to some of the famous celebrity and artist instruments that we have,” said Bill DeWalt, president and director of the Musical Instrument Museum.
Headsets and video let visitors see and hear people playing instruments in their traditional costumes and settings.
One of the high notes is the special exhibit area.
The actual Steinway piano on which John Lennon wrote the song “Imagine” is on display. Lennon bought the piano on Dec. 15, 1970, soon after the breakup of the Beatles.
“This instrument really represents the launch of his solo career, his emergence as a spokesperson for peace and world harmony,” said Alan di Perna, development associate for the MIM.
The piano has toured the world in the name of peace. It’s been to the sites of the Kennedy and King assassinations as a way to turn the vibe around in places associated with violence, di Perna said.
The piano is encased in plastic, but visitors can get up close. It will be at the Musical Instrument Museum for one year on loan from singer George Michael.
The Steinway Corp. has loaned the MIM the first Steinway piano, made in 1836 and brought to the U.S. from Germany.
It lacks some of the features of contemporary pianos.
“It doesn’t have the standard 88 keys and only has two foot pedals instead of three. It’s an early instrument. It’s not in that playable shape,” di Perna said.
Other instruments on loan include two guitars from Eric Clapton. One is the Fender Stratocaster “Brownie” that Clapton used for the songs “Layla” and “Bell Bottom Blues,” and a Gibson guitar that Clapton played with the band Cream.
A set of drums from the Black Eyed Peas, a surf board from the “King of the Surf Guitar” Dick Dale and guitars from George Benson round out the collection.
Fender Guitars is a corporate sponsor of the MIM. Its display depicts the evolution of Fender guitars and the electric guitar.
Fender Guitars’ presence is a natural for the museum given the role and scope of the brand in popular music of the 20th century, company spokesman Jason Farrell said.
Ulrich said he wants visitors to have fun, enjoy the exotic instruments and appreciate the music. “They can hit a 5-foot gong from Indonesia, they can play an African Samba piano,” he said.
Ulrich provided the seed money for the museum and though it was built during a recession, real estate was more affordable along with building supplies and labor.
He said Phoenix is a good location for the museum because of the climate, the proximity to Los Angeles and other tourist destinations.
“It’s a magnet for a variety of reasons for convention and tourism,” Ulrich said. “We’re very interested in attracting international visitors, and it’s only a few hours from the Grand Canyon.”
Musical Instrument Museum
What: The World’s First Global Musical
Instrument Museum, or MIM
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: 4725 East Mayo Blvd., Phoenix
Admission: $15 adults, $13 seniors 65 and older, $10 children and free for kids younger than 6