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National Music Museum Receives Valuable Instrument Collection to Kick Off New Year

VERMILLION, S.D. – The National Music Museum (NMM) in Vermillion, South Dakota, kicked off the new year on a high note by welcoming a significant stringed instrument collection once owned by the late cellist and collector Robert Cancelosi, DMA.

Three cellos posed dynamically against a black background.
Cellos from the Cancelosi Collection - (L to R) Gennaro Gagliano, Naples, 1735; Franceso Ruggeri, Cremona, 1683; Giuseppe and Antonio Gagliano, Naples, 1777.

The collection is a promised gift of Ken Cancelosi in memory of his father, Robert Cancelosi. “To all teachers and students called to perform and study the art of music, I give these tools to you,” said Ken Cancelosi. 

“I hope these diverse sounds and the music they create inspire you as they did my father.”

Five cellos, 27 bows, archival materials, and a Hawaiian guitar Cancelosi used as a child arrived at the NMM late last month and will have the unique distinction of becoming not only museum objects, but also part of a growing playable collection at the NMM.

“Violins and bows have a dual charm for string players – as the tools of making music are as delicate as wooden sculptures. Not all musicians appreciate them in quite this way, but Robert Cancelosi, in his career as a professional cellist, clearly did,” noted Phillip Kass, the collection’s appraiser. “Over the decades he collected both beautiful celli that he could play in major orchestras and elegant bows with which he could play them – and in the process developed a collection that attracts us equally on both levels.”

“An increasing number of donors are searching for institutions that can dually preserve the integrity of their beloved instruments while allowing access to share their unique sound. Our location on the campus of the University of South Dakota and affiliation with the Department of Music makes us a perfect home for those instrument collections,” said Dwight Vaught, NMM director. “When Mr. Cancelosi first approached us with this donation based on our ability to facilitate its continued use, we were excited by the opportunity. The instruments themselves are a significant addition to the NMM collections, but including the element of accessibility is a real game changer – not only for us, but also for our partners in the College of Fine Arts.”  


“This amazing gift will provide unrivalled opportunities for our students, faculty and staff.  It is a rare and wonderful collection that will be shared, enjoyed, studied and played” said Bruce Kelley, Ph.D., dean of the USD College of Fine Arts.

“Mr. Cancelosi’s passion for providing students with access to world-class instruments and bows is inspirational.  We are deeply grateful for his generosity.”

Three cellos standing against a black background.
Cellos from the Cancelosi Collection - (L to R) Gennaro Gagliano, Naples, 1735; Franceso Ruggeri, Cremona, 1683; Giuseppe and Antonio Gagliano, Naples, 1777.

Sonja Kraus, D.M., assistant professor of music at USD, accompanied NMM curator Arian Sheets on an initial visit to examine the instruments, and knows firsthand just how special this donation is. “Having experienced the magnitude of playing on these cellos and bows myself, I can foresee the life changing experiences for other artists, and especially students, when they get to try out this collection themselves,” said Kraus. “We are deeply grateful to Mr. Cancelosi for having such a great vision for the legacy of the collection.”


Kraus will demonstrate one of the three most important cellos during an upcoming Rawlins Piano Trio concert on Sunday, Jan. 28, as part of the “NMM Live!” concert series. The concert is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. in the NMM’s Janet Lucille Wanzek Performance Hall. Admission is free.


The three cellos that will form the core of the NMM’s performing collection include the following:

  • The oldest, a 1683 cello made by Francesco Ruggeri in Cremona, is notable for its dark, rich and powerful tone.


  • A 1735 by Gennaro Gagliano of Naples has a voice that is bright and nimble, well suited for the virtuosic cello music of the 18th century.


  • A 1777 cello made jointly by brothers Giuseppe and Antonio Gagliano, nephews of Gennaro Gagliano, possesses a smooth and well-balanced playing quality that makes it versatile for many playing styles and repertoires.

Highlights from the bow collection include both gold- and silver-mounted bows by the great mid-19th century French maker Dominique Peccatte, as well as further examples by other notable French makers.


“The bows, many of which are preserved in exceptionally fine, unworn condition, will provide a valuable reference to contemporary bow makers, who value access to pristine historical examples for study that informs their own work,” said Sheets. “The ability for craftspeople to consistently access these high-level cellos and bows in a museum setting will ensure that the Cancelosi collection will contribute to the contemporary craft of new instrument and bow making.”


Following extensive renovations, the NMM opened seven new galleries last fall. The museum is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. The special exhibition, “High Strung: Five Centuries of Stringed Keyboard Instruments,” is scheduled to open in March 2024, and remain open through the calendar year.
The National Music Museum (NMM), located on the campus of the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, is one of the world’s finest collections of musical instruments, with some 14,000 instruments in its holdings. The NMM owns some of the most historically significant musical instruments in existence. Founded in 1973, the National Music Museum Inc. is a non-profit entity in partnership with USD.

A museum gallery filled with antique musical instruments.
The Cutler Gallery, part of the NMM's renovated exhibition spaces.


Material for this press released created in partnership, and published by, The University of South Dakota



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Our brand new first-floor galleries are officially OPEN! The wait is finally over - come see the NEW NMM. Information on the galleries, hours, and more can be found on the VISIT & LEARN and EXHIBITIONS & EVENTS pages!

Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10am to 4pm, stop in to see our seven new galleries, concerts, events, and more! 

The Jason & Betsy Groves Special Exhibitions Gallery is OPEN! Come explore our current special exhibition HIGH STRUNG: FIVE CENTURIES OF STRINGED KEYBOARD INSTRUMENTS.


the NMM will be CLOSED until TUESDAY, 1/16

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