The 20 Biggest Musical Instrument Stories of the Decade
Updated: Mar 28, 2020
As 2019 comes to an end, many people are compiling lists of the "best," "biggest," and "most important" stories of the past decade. It is a good time for this blog to suggest a list of stories that were big news in the world of musical instruments over the past ten years. The stories include positive news including new museum collections that opened and new archaeological discoveries. There were also disasters, both natural and man made, that were about the destruction of instruments. While no such list can be comprehensive, it is an opportunity to think back on the past ten years, and to consider many of these big news stories again.
2010: The Victoria and Albert Museum Closes its Musical Instrument Gallery Early in the decade, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) closed its gallery for musical instruments, removing nearly 260 instruments including items that had been a part of the royal collection. The space was renovated for use as galleries for fashion exhibits. While some of the famed instruments were later incorporated into other areas of the museum, the vast majority remain inaccessible to the public nearly a decade later.
Even as the V&A announced the closure of its galleries, halfway around the globe a major new museum dedicated solely to musical instruments was preparing to open in Phoenix, Arizona. In April of 2010, the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), opened in a purpose-built facility with approximately 200,000 square feet for galleries, conservation studios, and a 300 seat auditorium. The Museum is dedicated to presenting instruments from around the globe and it has become a major tourist attraction in the southwest United States.
The first year of the decade also brought epic flooding to Nashville, known as "Music City" USA, that caused billions of dollars of damage to the city's infrastructure and private property. The devastation included the destruction of many instruments. The Opry Museum collection and building sustained severe flooding and damage to pieces from the Roy Acuff Collection. Gibson guitars had millions of dollars of losses to both raw materials and finished instruments, and many private musicians, dealers, and rental agencies saw the loss of both vintage and new instruments.
2011: Stradivari Violin sold for Disaster Relief In 2011, another natural disaster prompted the sale of one of the most famed musical instruments. On March 11, an magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the northeast coast of Japan in the Pacific Ocean. This tremendous quake caused an enormous tsunami that devastated the country of Japan, flooding more than 200 miles of the coast. Perhaps 20,000 people died in the disaster and nearly half a million were displaced.
The Nippon Foundation decided that in order to help victims of the tsunami, they would sell the "Lady Blunt" violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1721. The instrument, well known for being in extraordinary original condition, attained an auction price of 9.8 million British Pounds (15.9 million dollars at the time) when it was sold in June of 2011.
2012: Oldest Instruments Ever Discovered In a much happier story, researchers announced in May of 2012 that the oldest instruments ever found had been discovered in a cave in southern Germany. The small flutes made from mammoth ivory and bird bones were found in a site that archaeologists date as more than 40,000 years old.
2013: Rijksmuseum Reopens with a New Music Display Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum reopened in April of 2013 after being closed to the public for more than a decade. In addition to new galleries featuring its famous collection of Dutch paintings, the Museum also showcased many of its other collections, including a new music room dedicated to its musical instrument collection.
Another new institution dedicated to musical instruments that opened during the decade is the Museo del Violino in Cremona, Italy. The new state-of-the-art museum brings together collections that had been spread throughout the City into a single location, complete with public galleries, research facilities, and a beautiful concert space.
2014: U.S. Implements New Restrictions on the Ivory Trade The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented new restrictions on the transportation and sale of ivory beginning in February of 2014. Initially, the rules were so restrictive that musicians couldn't even travel with small amounts of ivory that had been put on instruments and bows centuries earlier. While the rules evolved during the decade, they are still overly prohibitive for collectors, dealers, and museums that specialize in the preservation of historic instruments.
2014: Sax 200
The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), Brussels, celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Adolph Sax with one of the largest special exhibitions of the decade. Featuring instruments on loan from private and public collections across Europe and the United States, the exhibit and accompanying catalog paid tribute to the enormously innovative and inventive instrument builder. The exhibition attracted approximately 168,000 visitors during its run.
Another important archaological discovery of musical instruments occurred on January 5, 2015 when a complex of tombs in China's Hubei province revealed instruments thought to be the earliest Chinese examples found to date. The tombs date to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 B.C.E.) and revealed an ancient Se (zither) as well as a wooden frame that was meant to hold musical chimes.
2015: Philharmonie de Paris Opens Fulfilling a master plan dating to the 1990s, the Philharmonie de Paris opened its main concert hall, designed by Jean Nouvel, adjacent to the Cité de la musique and its Musée de la Musique. The new Nouvel building includes a 2,400 seat auditorium, but also an 8,600 square foot exhibition space used for musical installations and special exhibits.
As part of its campaign of cultural terrorism, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked musicians, confiscated musical items, and destroyed instruments in publicly orchestrated bonfires. While many of the instruments were modern guitars and electric keyboards, traditional instruments including drums and ouds were also destroyed. The terrorists deemed that the instruments and the music played on them were "un-Islamic." These violent actions were part of a much wider campaign that brought the destruction of other cultural property and even archaeological sites, perpetrated by ISIS.
2016: Studio Bell, Home of the National Music Centre, Opens On July 1st, otherwise known as Canada Day, the 160,000 square foot Studio Bell including five floors of exhibition space and a 300 seat auditorium opened in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The exhibitions highlight a collection that includes instruments and equipment spaninng more than 450 years. The new institution highlights the history of Canadian music, and also holds three Canadian music halls of fame.
In April of 2017, Scotland's oldest-built concert venue reopened after a two-year renovation. In addition to the refurbished concert hall, the building also features brand new exhibition spaces that showcase more than 400 musical instruments from the University's internationally renowned collection. It is the only venue in the world where one can hear original 18th century instruments in an 18th century performances space.
2018: Gibson Guitar Company Files Bankruptcy Perhaps validating the Washington Post prediction of a year earlier, the venerable American Guitar Company, Gibson, filed Chapter 11 in early 2018. Incorporated in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1902 by a group of investors hoping to capitalize on the instrument designs and patents of Orville Gibson, the company went on to become a powerhouse manufacturer of both acoustic and electric guitars throughout the twentieth century.
2018: Carolina Music Museum Opens In the spring of 2018, the Carolina Music Museum opened its doors in Greenville, South Carolina, becoming the only major music collection in the southeast region of the United States. The Museum made big news in 2019 when it announced it had acquired the collection of the late Marlowe Sigal and will rename itself the Sigal Music Museum.
2018: National Music Museum Announces Major Renovation and Expansion On October 6, 2018, the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion closed its doors to the public for a massive renovation and expansion to its building. The new structure, scheduled to open in 2021, will add approximately 16,000 square feet to the current facility.
Carolina Music Museum (L) opened its doors in 2018, while the National Music Museum (R - rendering of proposed building) announced a major expansion
In February, The Metropolitan Museum completed a multi-year renovation of five galleries with 12,000 square feet of exhibition space. The new galleries are collectively known as "The Art of Music," and attempt to create a dialogue between instruments from across the world and throughout four thousand years of human history with the visual arts at the Museum. A mere six weeks later, the Museum opened its largest ever musical instrument exhibition. Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll was a joint project between The Met and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio. It featured more than 130 instruments including electric guitars, early synthesizers, drum sets, and more. The exhibition eventually drew more than 670,000 visitors during its summer run.
2019: Notre Dame Fire Spares Historic Organ On April 15, the roof of the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire. The blaze began just under the roof, but quickly enveloped the historic wooden roof and destroyed the famed spire. Extensive damage occurred to the building, but the structure maintained intact. Many of the artifacts housed inside also sustained damage from the fire and water used to extinguish the flames. The historic Grand Organ, with five keyboards and 8,000 pipes, sustained some minor damage, but was largely spared from the destruction of the fire.
2019: David Gilmour's "Black Strat" Crushes Auction Records In June of 2019, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd auctioned of more than a hundred of his most important guitars, with proceeds going to benefit organizations fighting the climate crisis. Gilmour's "Black Strat" was sold for $3,975,000, making it the most expensive guitar ever sold.