Rhythm and Ritual: Music of the Ancient Americas Exhibition

Updated: Oct 25, 2020



By Jared Katz


The past can sometimes appear to be static, as the objects in museums are seemingly condemned to sit in silence, removed from the context they were once used. In reality, each object has a rich life history. Rhythm and Ritual: Music of the Ancient Americas, seeks to bring these objects back to life for people, celebrating the instruments of the past. Rhythm and Ritual is one of the largest exhibitions in the United States to date to explore the context in which music was performed by various cultures throughout the ancient Americas. The exhibition, ultimately, seeks to populate people’s perception of the past with sound and music, allowing museum guests to better understand the experiences of ancient individuals in their daily and ceremonial lives. This show is a collaboration between the Denver Art Museum and the Museo de las Americas and features nearly 80 objects from the Denver Art Museum’s permanent collection. The exhibition tells the story of ancient music through three primary sections.

Section1: Types of musical instruments

The first section identifies the overarching organological classifications of musical instruments played throughout the ancient Americas, based on the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system. The display cases within this section show instruments within the same classification from different cultural areas, thus allowing museum guests to see the overarching similarity of the musical technology while at the same time allowing them to appreciate the stylistic differences. The three types of instruments discussed are membranophones, idiophones, and aerophones.


Section 2: Context of Musical Performance

The second section of the exhibition is dedicated to exploring the different contexts in which music was performed by ancient people