Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Dirge

Horniman Museum Policy

Recommended Posts

Tyres, not tires.

Not where I learned to spell, and I won awards
;)
.

 

You are both right and wrong. Tire and tyre are both OK, at least according to my Concise English Dictionary :P

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Finally, mummified? Once again, no. I was prompted by an artifact, my inherited Great-great-grandfather's concertina, to do some historical research, which led to my embracing the instrument as a living tradition. We see this sort of revival happening all the time, in many fields, as a result of museum collections, research and programming.

Museums strive to revivify the technologies and values of the past, not ossify them.

 

I am somewhat of a museum man myself, although more in the field of biology (but I did some restoration projects of old collections, so I have some knowledge in this field).

I think there is no reason for not having part of the museum collection played on so now and then, or at least have some recordings made so that people can actually listen to the instrument. I think that there must be enough instruments that can made playable again with not too much effort. Paintings and other museum objects are being restored as well. There are hundreds of professional restorers working for museums! Museum staff carefully notes the history of restoration of each object, and eventual replaced parts can be kept with the object for future study. A copy could be made of those instruments that for some reason can not be restored (like the case of the archaeological find, or perhaps Brian Buru's harp) in playable condition. But of course we want to hear the real thing. We are talking music here! Not just an interesting mechanical thing or some historical object...

At a pipers gathering about a month ago I met the piper Ronan Browne who showed us a very rare late 18th century set of Uilleann pipes (absolute museum piece), but really thrilling was the fact that he took the instrument and actually played it for us all to hear! :rolleyes:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This link might be of interest. 9000 year old bone flute with photos and sound files.

 

What sort of music would a museum want to be played on such an instrument? What they picked here was suitably neutral. I think that how you play music and what you play is a much stronger indicator of practice than what instrument you play it on. Aside from the pitch choices (interesting subject with these flutes), rhythm, melody, vertical polyphony as well as setting and purpose all trump timbre, as important as it is. Of course we have very little to no information about these things for 9000 year old cultures. Shame they didn't have youtube back then.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you want a concertina that is in original condition you are going to have to examine an unaltered instrument and then build a replica using materials that are in the same as the materials used in the original, in the condition they were when the original was constructed.

 

If I remember correctly part of the superior quality of Stadivarius violins is attributed to the way that the varnish ages, so your replica may then need to age for some decades to get it to its best potential quality.

 

As we have discussed in other threads, the sound of a concertina changes as it is played in and can deteriorate through not being played, while execcive hard playing can damage bellows etc. so you have to strike the right balance of use to reach the peak of perfection for that instrument.

 

At this point you may decide that the sound is not what you wanted in the first place!

 

My thought is that examples that have little alteration from new are best preserved intact and documented to give some evidence for producing replicas. It seems to me that restoring an instrument wil not neccesarily restore the sound that the instrument produced.

 

Robin Madge

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Shame they didn't have youtube back then.

On the other hand, would you really want 9000 years of youtube videos acting as a cultural sheet anchor? Lucky escape, I'd say :)

 

Chris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What I hope is that, some day, a fellow like Wim will find a way to "match" the sound produced by those vintage instruments with a modern concertina, and I don't see why that cannot be accomplished.

 

hear an antique wheatstone linota played next to a carroll, and tell me if you can hear the difference. i can't!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hear an antique wheatstone linota played next to a carroll, and tell me if you can hear the difference. i can't!

That would surprise me quite a lot. On the other hand I think the majority of people, including 'experts', would be pushed in a blindfold test to tell which was the Wheatstone and which was the Carroll. To my ears there is a lot of variability in the sound of different concertinas, even between concertinas of the same type made by the same maker. It's part of the charm of the instrument. Thus I agree with what I take to be your general point about the futility of trying to match some sort of notional Jeffries, Linota or Aeola sound.

 

Chris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As players, it seems that we instinctively feel that the role of an instrument is to be played. I know I do. You only have to look at the Buy & Sell forum to see how many people are selling instruments because they've bought something better, and give their reason for selling that they want a good instrument to be played. That's understandable - we're musicians and we want to hear instruments making music.

 

However it's not the only point of view. Bill N has clearly argued the case for preserving items in museums, and I for one can see that this carries some force. Who is to say which point of view has more merit?

 

The question in my mind is how many of the instruments in museums could actually be put into good playable condition at a reasonable cost. In other words, are museums really locking up potentially useful instruments, or are their collections in fact mostly made up of exhibits which are historically interesting but not of much value in musical terms? I suspect the answer is that in many, if not most, cases the historical interest outweighs their musical potential.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
As players, it seems that we instinctively feel that the role of an instrument is to be played. I know I do. You only have to look at the Buy & Sell forum to see how many people are selling instruments because they've bought something better, and give their reason for selling that they want a good instrument to be played. That's understandable - we're musicians and we want to hear instruments making music.

 

I had thought about this. But aren't we the only people who really feel strongly about the things at all? If I see a French horn in a museum I am underwhelmed. If it wasn't there I probably wouldn't miss it.

 

 

 

The question in my mind is how many of the instruments in museums could actually be put into good playable condition at a reasonable cost. In other words, are museums really locking up potentially useful instruments, or are their collections in fact mostly made up of exhibits which are historically interesting but not of much value in musical terms? I suspect the answer is that in many, if not most, cases the historical interest outweighs their musical potential.

 

Good point, although I would maintain that even an early instrument needs to fulfill its function occasionally if it is not to be rendered pointless. Until you can hear it you don't really know what it's about. You only have the lesser part of the facts.

 

Hence my original comment that I thought occasional playing by agreement was the best you could hope for from a museum. But I'm with Chris, pads and valves are consumables and need to be replaced, and to do so, carefully and documented, should not be seen as damage, indeed should be done so that the exhibit will play and therefore has some worth as such. They can always keep the original pads separately if they feel the need.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hear an antique wheatstone linota played next to a carroll, and tell me if you can hear the difference. i can't!

That would surprise me quite a lot. On the other hand I think the majority of people, including 'experts', would be pushed in a blindfold test to tell which was the Wheatstone and which was the Carroll. To my ears there is a lot of variability in the sound of different concertinas, even between concertinas of the same type made by the same maker. It's part of the charm of the instrument. Thus I agree with what I take to be your general point about the futility of trying to match some sort of notional Jeffries, Linota or Aeola sound.

 

Chris

 

there is definitely at lot of variation within the same make and model by a single maker. every carroll i have heard sounds considerably different, and i have heard at least 10 or 15, and played about the same number. however, i would say that they still have general characteristics, which they share with wooden-ended linotas, after which they are modeled. i would say the same thing for jeffries--they all very considerably, but they sound like a jeffries. things do become less clear when you say compare a crabb to a jeffries; i have met some nice crabbs that screamed jeffries through and through. however, i would then say that crabb was able to replicate the jeffries sound back in the day, and vice versa (depending on who you talk to).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I had thought about this. But aren't we the only people who really feel strongly about the things at all? If I see a French horn in a museum I am underwhelmed. If it wasn't there I probably wouldn't miss it.

I think you're right. It's an emotional response, not a logical one, and we're likely to feel it more towards things we feel some affinity for.

 

I would maintain that even an early instrument needs to fulfill its function occasionally if it is not to be rendered pointless..... But I'm with Chris, pads and valves are consumables and need to be replaced, and to do so, carefully and documented, should not be seen as damage, indeed should be done so that the exhibit will play and therefore has some worth as such. They can always keep the original pads separately if they feel the need.

But this is making the assumption that playability is always more important than its other attributes.

 

As players, we often don't have a lot of respect for the instruments themselves. Oh, we can respect the craftsmanship and recognise the instrument's aesthetic qualities, but many of us are mainly interested in having playable instruments and we will cheerfully do what's necessary to achieve that without regard to authenticity, including in some cases having the instrument retuned into a different completely key from the original.

 

A museum or a private collector may be more interested in the instrument as an object, and from that perspective it is more important to keep it as close to its original and authentic state as possible. From this perspective, playability of less importance - if the instrument can be played, fine, but if not the authenticity should not be sacrificed to make it so. There are plenty of other examples of playable concertinas if anyone wishes to study that aspect. From this perspective, the sort of restoration which as players we regard as desirable and necessary would be considered vandalism. Who's to say which point of view is more valid?

 

You feel that an instrument only has worth if it is played. On the whole, my instinctive reaction is to agree. But I can also recognise that some instruments may have worth simply by existing as unaltered examples of their kind, and that playability is secondary to this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ii have met some nice crabbs that screamed jeffries through and through. however, i would then say that crabb was able to replicate the jeffries sound back in the day, and vice versa (depending on who you talk to).

That is hardly surprising, since Crabbs supplied Jeffries with reeds, parts and even entire instruments. Many instruments stamped "Jeffries" will have originated at least in part from Crabb's workshop.

 

What is perhaps more surprising in the light of this is the premium attached to the Jeffries name. Even an average Jeffries will probably attract a better price than a good Crabb, even though they may have been made by the same hands.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As a visitor of a museum of musical instruments I will enjoy an exhibition when I see on display beautiful instruments made with astonishing craftsmanship, I would like to see interesting historical pieces, bizarre innovations, the history and diversity of a group of instruments etc. But on top of that the museum should make an effort to give, where possible, sound samples (a piece of music for instance?) of the instruments in question. That would light my day as a visitor, and I am sure of most other visitors too.

And to respond to an earlier contribution here, no a replica will not do, because it will never sound exactly like the instrument displayed.

I went to buy a new (old) wooden ended Aeola a few weeks ago from the British dealer everybody here knows, and had the choice between five instruments. There was a huge difference in sound between the oldest (Victorian) Aeola who had a lovely soft and sweet sound, and those made about 15 years or so later which are much more loud and sturdier. Those things (for instance) I would like to hear, because I cannot see it!

Museums do not only have the duty to keep things for ''eternity'', but also to show and instruct and to pass on knowledge.

An instrument is just a dead corpse and only comes alive when played. The intrinsic value of a musical instrument is the music it produces. Museums should acknowledge that (perhaps there are a few who do?!). Otherwise it will look like a library were the books are kept just to show how a book was made but we are not supposed to read them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Museums' purposes and roles have been in constant flux for as long as museums existed. Here in Britain in recent years lottery funding, and the trendy "heritage with everything" style has completely changed many museums and particularly the style, substance and presentation of exhibits. Collections amassed for the purpose of having a broad representation of the evolution of a class of object, whether musical instrument, childrens toys, or fine ceramics, find themselves in a difficult position with public expectation of interpretative display, hands-on multimedia presentation and push-button display cases that reward the customer with some fancy action. Serried ranks of (to the layperson) identical musical instruments do not a valid business model make. We should perhaps be thankful that the Horniman has more strings to its bow than just free reed instruments. Prior to the recession, small museums featuring everything from bakelite radios to tinplate toys sprang up, sadly some of these have since closed their doors and I know of some that have dispersed their collections through auction.

 

The concertina presents a fascinating, and quite special, case study in this area. On the one hand we have a section of a the Horniman (the Wayne Collection) featuring instruments back to the earliest. On the other hand we have an active connected community of players, and a worldwide auction system and buying and selling network that regularly features many of the types of instruments found in the Horniman. Those instruments are being sold into the hands of players who are actively playing the instruments, restoring them, and discussing them ad infinitum, videoing them, photographing them, going along to workshops and sessions and generally getting enjoyment from them. We also have a slow but steady stream of old instruments appearing from lofts and garages, and moving through the restoration process into becoming living breathing instruments again.

 

To make the picture even more interesting we have the modern makers of quality instruments, future exhibits for the Horniman.

 

So whilst a collection exists and there are instruments out in the wild being cherished and played we have the best of worlds. There is a resource for those who would study the intricacies of design and development of the instrument, and we have concertinas being played and heard all over the world.

 

Long live the concertina and its timeless appeal.

 

Simon

Edited by Simon H

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
An instrument is just a dead corpse and only comes alive when played.

That comment reminded me of a letter I wrote to the editors of an American newspaper a few years back:

The AP report on the giant Palouse earthworm says that scientists "fear it may be near extinction". But it also says, "the giant earthworm Sanchez-de Leon found last year already has been consigned to a jar of formaldehyde."

 

So now they can prove that the species is still "alive" by pointing to the *dead* body of the only individual seen since the 1980's? What's wrong with this picture? If they were really concerned about the possibility of extinction, shouldn't that worm have been kept alive?

And I wonder how "original" one should consider an instrument in unplayable condition to be, since presumably its original condition was playable.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And I wonder how "original" one should consider an instrument in unplayable condition to be, since presumably its original condition was playable.

 

And also who's to say that an instrument in a collection hasn't at some time before being collected been changed - eg through repairs or other interventions, and not always by the original maker (I have for example a Wheatstone repaired by H Crabb). How original is it then?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Otherwise it will look like a library were the books are kept just to show how a book was made but we are not supposed to read them.

A library which does not allow its books to be read is pretty pointless. However for a museum of bookbinding the important thing is the book as an object, rather than the information it contains. In that case it may make perfect sense not to allow people to read them if this could damage the object.

 

Why shouldn't the same apply to concertinas? For a museum, the concertinas are not there to create music but as a record of the construction and development of the instrument. To demand that they should be restored because they are not fulfilling their function as musical instruments is missing the point of why they are being preserved in the first place. Restoring them to playable condition could make them useless as artefacts and as historical evidence. It might be good for a handful of musicians who might get to play those instruments, but would be a great loss to the rest of us.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
For a museum, the concertinas are not there to create music but as a record of the construction and development of the instrument. To demand that they should be restored because they are not fulfilling their function as musical instruments is missing the point of why they are being preserved in the first place. Restoring them to playable condition could make them useless as artefacts and as historical evidence. It might be good for a handful of musicians who might get to play those instruments, but would be a great loss to the rest of us.

 

Who says that a museum of music instruments should limit itself to preserve or show only one aspect (and not the most important) of musical instruments? Why restrict yourself? As I said before museums have more tasks than only preserving objects for eternity. They have a duty to display and instruct at its best and in my view preserving and showing only craftmenship is way too limited. And as I said before (again) other objects from different museum collections are being restored as well (paintings, tapestries, clocks you name it!).

I really do not see why it would be too much asked to restore at least part of the collection and give sound files of those instruments being played while standing in front of a display case (just give everybody one of these machines with head phones).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...