A Sioux City family plays a significant role in the newly expanded and renovated National Music Museum which reopened Saturday after being closed for five years.
One of the museum’s prized exhibits, a Javanese Gamelan or percussion orchestra, is on display in a new gallery at the museum.
The late Margaret Ann Martin Everist of Sioux City donated money to purchase the Gamelan, said Deborah Reeves, the museum’s retired Curator of Education.
“It kind of just blows me away. It came to the museum in 1999 and came directly from Java. It was shipped to the west coast, then taken by train to Minneapolis and then went through customs and was trucked to Vermillion,” Reeves said standing in the Gamelan Gallery Saturday.
“It was an enormous job first of all. We spent numerous iterations of text, design, even picking instruments that we wanted on display and what themes to explore,” she said.
The Gamelan is a percussion orchestra made up of things you can hit such as gongs, pots and, xylophones.
The display is actually only about two-thirds of the Gamelan instruments in the museum’s collection of more than 14,000 instruments.
“Through her (Everist’s) generosity we were able to acquire the instruments. As an educational tool they have been absolutely amazing. It’s one of the few places in South Dakota where people can come and be immersed in a different culture and all educational tours and activities are all culminated with some sort of experience playing the Gamelan,” Reeves said.
The Margaret Ann Martin Everist Foundation has established educational programs to help bring western Iowa students to visit the museum.
Located on the first floor of the museum’s original Carnegie Library building, the new galleries feature some of the finest instruments in the collections and will utilize stories, sound, graphics and interactive elements to explore how people are shaped by music.
The new installations emphasize how musical instruments tell stories of human creativity, culture and connection.
The museum staff worked with Luci Creative, a Chicago-based agency specializing in developing, designing and implementing exhibit spaces for museums.
Michael Suing, Deputy Director of Collections with the National Music Museum, said the museum tells stories about music and people.
“We have stories about jazz. We have stories about violin building from Germany to Minnesota, drumming around the world,” Suing said. “People can find themselves here.”
Suing said the museum’s Arena of Power exhibit shows the ways musical instruments were used not only in the military but as tools of propaganda negatively and positively.
“I am getting goosebumps just talking about it. People may not expect to find this subject matter here because it’s music. It is musical instruments. But we are so much impacted by instruments.”
Dwight Vaught, Director of the National Music Museum, is excited about the museum’s future.
“There has been such a transformation,” Vaught said.
He said the renovations keep the spirit of the original but the look has been completely transformed.
“We want to get as many eyes turned back to us as we can. We’re open. We want you to come back,” Vaught said. “We also want to see how people interact with the new exhibits. So our goal is really somewhat observational. We want to see what kinds of inspiration people take away from the new exhibits.”
He mentioned the Joan Baez guitar in the Guitar Gallery as a do-not-miss feature at the museum.
“The architecture, the structure of it, the color, the form and how she used it. It really speaks to us. An instrument is an extension of the person that plays it,” Vaught said.
Carol Robertson, Deputy Director, Museum Services, said the seven galleries focus on the different ways we interact with music in our lives.
“What they came up with I think is pure magic,” she said.
“What we’ve decided to do is take a bit of a different approach to the way in which we present the instruments and the ways they interact with us and how we relate to them whether we’re musicians or scholars or regular people. There is something with which we can connect.”
Scott Lawrence, Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, said everyone connected with the museum was proud to unveil the new exhibits Saturday.
“In this building, it used to be just cases and just brief descriptors. Now what we have created is an interactive opportunity for kids. They can push buttons and play instruments and do things,” Lawrence said.