National Music Museum Kicks off 50th Anniversary Year with Special Exhibition
The National Music Museum (NMM) is celebrating 50 years in the making with a special exhibition “As Good as Gold: The First 50 Years (1973–2023).” Since its official inception in 1973, the NMM has collected musical instruments and related materials spanning five centuries. That is 500 years of history, tradition, innovation, and music-making. Today, the NMM holds one of the world's premiere collections of musical instruments.
Beginning on January 20, “As Good as Gold: The First 50 Years” will be featured in the Jason and Betsy Groves Special Exhibition Gallery and will run through October 2023. Admission is free and open to the public on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.
“As Good as Gold” will explore the function of collecting in museums with a particular emphasis on how the NMM collecting originated and evolved. From the founding collection to recent acquisitions, the exhibition will feature some of the treasured instruments that shaped the NMM's collecting during its first 50 years of history.
Five “timeline” themes will highlight a particular period in the history of the NMM collections:
“Filling The Gaps” describes the period of collecting that happened after the donation of the founding Arne B. Larson Collection in 1979. A selection of early woodwind instruments and a harpsichord collected during this time illustrates the intention to “fill in the gaps” in the European collection, particularly in the areas of 16th- to early 19th-century instruments. Included in this group are a 1793 basset horn from Prague (NMM 3541); a ca. 1720 oboe from Amsterdam (NMM 4547); a ca. 1700–1725 tenor recorder from Brussels (NMM 4879); an original Adolphe Sax, ca. 1861 tenor saxophone (NMM 4039); and a 1659 Flemish harpsichord (NMM 3985) from Antwerp.
“Once In A Lifetime” is the phrase used when the famed Witten Collection of early Italian stringed instruments became available in 1984, and NMM Director André P. Larson recognized a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to seize the collection and secure the museum's identity as a major cultural institution. Today known as the Witten-Rawlins Collection, the selection of instruments in this group includes the Amati “King” cello (NMM 3351); a Stradivari violin (NMM 3598) and guitar (NMM 3976); a ca. 1538 cittern from Urbino (NMM 3386); and the 1767 Antunes piano (NMM 5055).
“Crescendo” represents the period of growth of the NMM collections between the 1980s and 2000s. Instruments from this group represent the strategic intent behind the opportunities to collect: a C. G. Conn saxophone exquisitely engraved by master Stenberg (NMM 5070); a natural trumpet from Nuremberg workshop founder Haas (NMM 5071); an early 17th-century rubab made in the Pamir Mountains (NMM 5580); a Stradivari mandolin (NMM 6045); a Grenser clarinet (NMM 7385) and a Naust transverse flute (NMM 10113), among the oldest European woodwinds presently at the NMM.
“Utley and Bates” represents the two major collections that the NMM acquired at the turn of the century—the Joe R. and Joella F. Utley Collection of Brass Instruments (1999) and the Alan G. Bates Harmonica Collection (2000). Only four, from a grand total that exceeds 3,000 instruments, were selected to highlight these two major acquisitions. From the Utley Collection, a Haas miniature horn (NMM 7213), and a custom-made Taylor trumpet (NMM 7316). From the Bates Collection, a Trumpet Call harmonica (NMM 8293), and a paddlewheel harmonica (NMM 9212).
“Fine-Tuning” represents the philosophy of sustainable collecting that the NMM adopted in the new century. The selection of instruments in this final group represents acquisitions that were deliberate and informed: one of the last well-documented Amati violins (NMM 14470); a 130-year-old Lot flute (NMM 14792) that influenced the design of modern orchestral flutes; an exceptional custom-made trombone for the 19th-century virtuoso performer, Arthur Pryor (NMM 15084); a rare 16th-century English viola da gamba (NMM 15629), and a rarer 16th-century Italian polygonal virginal (NMM 15652), both with well documented provenance history; and finally, a Native American rattle (NMM 15664) and drum (NMM 15667) from contemporary Indigenous artists.
The NMM is now committed to responsible and targeted collecting, which emphasizes objects with well-known provenances, most often enhanced by outstanding previous ownerships, fundamental and/or unique characteristics, and greatest impact in the forms of educational resource and exhibit potential.
The special exhibition includes a Creation Station with family-friendly activities inspired by instruments on display where visitors can design their own trumpet, craft a functional harmonica, or make crowns inspired by our Amati “King” cello decoration. For both visitors and educators, a special Activity Booklet is also available for “NMM learners” to “look, wonder, dream, and connect” with the exhibit. The booklet is free and can be requested at the front desk or downloaded online on the NMM website. The exhibition is also accompanied by a limited-edition catalog featuring an essay by the curator, historical photographs, and more details about each instrument on display. The catalog is available for purchase through the NMM gift shop or online through the NMM website.
The NMM is thankful for major support provided by Clayton & Odessa Lang Ofstad Foundation, and additional support from Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation, City of Vermillion, and South Dakota Arts Council, all of which made this exhibition and accompanying materials and activities possible.
In addition to the special exhibition, the NMM gift shop and NMM Live! concert series will also be in full swing this spring and summer. Unless otherwise noted, all concerts will be held at the NMM Janet Wanzek Performance Hall and are of free admission. More information can be found on our Facebook page, or online at nmmusd.org.
About the National Music Museum
The National Music Museum (NMM) is located on the campus of the University of South Dakota (USD) in Vermillion. The NMM holds one of the world’s finest collections of musical instruments of about 15,000 instruments, many of significant historical importance in existence. Founded in 1973, the National Music Museum Inc. is a non-profit entity in partnership with USD