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Please don't forget that at least some of the instruments in the Horniman collection of concertinas were already in playable condition when they got them from Neil Wayne.

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Please don't forget that at least some of the instruments in the Horniman collection of concertinas were already in playable condition when they got them from Neil Wayne.

 

 

Hmmm. One wonders if they still are in playable condition? And, if they are likely to spend the rest of their lives on show, stuck behind glass, does it matter?

 

Chris

Edited by Chris Drinkwater

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As I said before (again) other objects from different museum collections are being restored as well (paintings, tapestries, clocks you name it!).

Not everyone agrees with the extent of restoration of these items either.

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).

Is it worth compromising the historical integrity of the exhibit simply to allow people to hear what it sounded like?

 

If you want to educate visitors about concertinas there are plenty of players and playable instruments who can provide that resource without touching the actual exhibits. Why do they need to hear those actual instruments? For someone wishing to study a specific instrument, it is up to the museum to decide how much access to allow. It should not necessary to restore an instrument to playable condition in order to hear what the reeds sounded like.

 

In general, I instinctively agree with the notion that an instrument which is not being played is somehow "dead". But making music is not the only attribute of an instrument, and for a museum to decide to put other attributes before playability is entirely for it to decide - just as it is up to a musician to put playability above the other attributes.

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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).

Is it worth compromising the historical integrity of the exhibit simply to allow people to hear what it sounded like?

"Historical integrity".

A high-sounding phrase, but what is the reality?

 

In the case of the Horniman collection of concertinas, the only "historical integreity" of the collection as a whole seems to be that it was assembled by Neil Wayne. With regard to individual instruments, for most of them I don't think enough is known of their history to establish anything that deserves the name "integrity", except for the makers name. For some of them, even that isn't known, and as anyone who reads the History subForum knows, even some of those with maker's labels or stamps were actually made by others, whose identity it may or may not be possible to determine.

 

And in the case of those special instruments for which a significant amount is known, is that information being compiled, preserved and displayed along with the instruments? To be honest, I don't know. But a case in point:

One instrument that greatly interests me is the Litton. I do not know if more than the one was ever built. Though often called a "duet", it's not, having the notes of each octave split between the two ends. It's named for the man who both invented the layout and used it in performance, to great acclaim. Whether on display or stored in a cabinet, is this information kept with the instrument, or even anywhere in the museum's records? Once again, I don't know. (I don't recall seeing this history on the instrument's web page in the museum's on-line catalogue of musical instruments, but I thought I should double check. Unfortunately, it seems that at the moment all pages in that catalogue are "Not Found".)

 

But the Litton also presents a problem for
chiton1
's proposal to provide "sound files of those instruments being played". To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Litton was the only person ever to perform on a concertina with his keyboard layout, and nothing is now known of the details of his arrangements. So for that instrument, who should play it, and what arrangements of what music should they play?

It should not necessary to restore an instrument to playable condition in order to hear what the reeds sounded like.

To the contrary. The reeds don't sound the same outside the context of the entire instrument, and what rusty or cracked reeds now sound like in a cracked, leaky, dusty, moth- and woodworm-bored (I'm being deliberately extreme) concertina is likely quite different from what they originally sounded like.

 

But here's another issue, both for those in favor of restoration and those opposed:

To restore an instrument properly requires considerable specialist skill and knowledge. In the case of concertinas, there are only a few people alive today with that special skill and knowledge, and to the best of my knowledge they are all fully engaged in making new instruments and/or restoring instruments which are
not
sequestered in museums.

 

Would you have them abandon this other work -- even a significant part of it -- in order to restore museum instruments?

One further thought: Would this discussion even be taking place if it weren't for the fact that the Horniman Museum has such a large and significant collection of concertinas, which was made possible by Neil Wayne on his own initiative and (AFAIK) with his own funds amassing the collection (or most of it, at least), quite likely saving many of those instruments from a fate worse than preservation, i.e., the tip! ("the garbage dump!", in American. ;))?

 

I'm not aware of any other museum that possesses more than a few concertinas, and most of those seem to be unremarkable in terms of both rarity and condition.

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I wasn't thinking specifically of the Horniman collection, although that's how the thread started, but in general terms. However, knowing that Neil was also a dealer I would imagine that his collection contained those instruments which he felt were sufficiently important or unusual not to sell on.

 

The point is, to make an instrument playable will very likely involve destroying or at least modifying many of the features which make it interesting to a museum. Is it so important to know what a particular instrument sounded like, if it results in the destruction of other features of interest? Is that really of overriding significance? We know in general terms what concertinas sound like, and it may well be possible to infer what an individual instrument sounded like by listening to similar instruments which have been restored.

 

I'm sure that there are many very ordinary instruments held in museums which don't add much, if anything, to our knowledge of concertina construction, and perhaps for these instruments there would be little harm in having them restored. But what is the point in putting them into playable condition if they will remain in a glass case without being played? which is the inevitable fate of most museum exhibits. Or are those who advocate this suggesting they should all be "returned to the wild"?

 

I am simply arguing against the idea that the only important attribute of a concertina is what it sounded like, and that none of its other attributes matter.

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I love museums, particularly ones like the Horniman/Wayne collection that buy up every instrument they can find, regardless of whether it has historical significance or not.

 

The more old instruments they take out of circulation, the more valuable those that are left become.

 

I'm a fiddler more than a concertinist, and I love the feeling that every time an important violin gets locked away in a collection, my old (but well maintained and frequently played) fiddle gets a little bit more valuable.

Edited by Skreech

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I wasn't thinking specifically of the Horniman collection, although that's how the thread started, but in general terms.

When it comes to concertinas, the Horniman collection seems to be the only publicly held collection of any significance, possibly by a factor of 50 or more. So I don't think there are any "general terms". Unless you're also generalizing to other types of musical instruments, or even beyond musical instruments (wooden ships? patchwork quilts? jade carvings?).

 

However, knowing that Neil was also a dealer I would imagine that his collection contained those instruments which he felt were sufficiently important or unusual not to sell on.

Absolutely. But the details Neil personally considered to be important aren't necessarily all the same as what another individual would. Or museums in general, from your description.

 

...it may well be possible to infer what an individual instrument sounded like by listening to similar instruments which have been restored.

In theory, of course. But it is not possible if noone undertakes the project of making those sounds available.

 

I'm sure that there are many very ordinary instruments held in museums.....

Outside of the Horniman, very few, from what I've seen... or more to the point, haven't seen.

 

I am simply arguing against the idea that the only important attribute of a concertina is what it sounded like, and that none of its other attributes matter.

And I agree with you. In fact, I have attempted to expand that view, to include consideration of (among other things) whether the purported goal of a museum's ownership is actually being met, or even actively pursued.

 

As just one possibility, you mention the potential importance of the identity of the original materials used in construction. But can I really accept that a museum considers this to be important if they make no effort to record those details? If those details are not recorded, then in the event of a disaster -- flood, fire, bombing, etc. -- they would be lost forever. But to the extent that they are recorded (and the record is stored elsewhere), they might survive the unfortunate destruction of the actual instrument(s), and be useful to future academics or craftsmen.

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Jim, I'm sure you're right that the Horniman is the only significant museum collection of concertinas. However I'm fairly sure I've seen individual concertinas in other collections, although I'm pressed to say exactly where.

 

I agree it would be desirable to have the sounds of these instruments available. The question is, how to weigh the desirability of this against the damage to the original the necessary restoration would entail. What I'm taking issue with is the suggestion that this should be the most important thing and should override other considerations.

 

Leaving concertinas aside, I know that when I visit a museum I feel a stronger response to items which have as far as possible not been restored. They seem more authentic, compared with a heavily restored item, or worst of all, a replica.

 

It seems to me it is up to the owners of concertinas to decide what aspects of them they choose to emphasise. If the owner is a musician, we wouldn't think of criticising them for carrying out whatever work is necessary to make the instrument playable, even if it involves substantial alterations or replacement of the original. On the contrary, we would expect it. From another point of view, such work could be considered vandalism, when a craftsman (sometimes the same craftsman) could have been commissioned to construct a new instrument. Why then should we criticise museums for choosing to emphasise a different aspect of their collections?

 

I agree with your final comments about how well museums look after and record the items in their care. I have no information on how well the Horniman fulfils this responsibility.

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Jim, I'm sure you're right that the Horniman is the only significant museum collection of concertinas. However I'm fairly sure I've seen individual concertinas in other collections, although I'm pressed to say exactly where.

Exactly. As I said, they exist elsewhere, but very few, and even more rarely an instrument of any significance. And I don't recall ever seeing one on display with any text that indicated that it wasn't necessarily a perfect representative of all concertinas.

 

I agree it would be desirable to have the sounds of these instruments available. The question is, how to weigh the desirability of this against the damage to the original the necessary restoration would entail.

If that's in response to my post, then you've misunderstood me. I guess I didn't make myself clear. You had said:

...it may well be possible to infer what an individual instrument sounded like by listening to similar instruments which have been restored.
And I meant to suggest that sound files to accompany museum instruments might be produced by playing on such "similar instruments which have been restored".

 

Why then should we criticise museums for choosing to emphasise a different aspect of their collections?

You seem to think they shouldn't be criticized, but you also seem to agree with their priorities. Others, disagreeing with their priorities, are criticizing them... or at least criticizing those priorities. I'll bet there are situations in which you would criticize the priorities of others, too. E.g., the destruction byt the Taliban of massive, ancient stone Buddhas in 2001.

 

I think the most important point at the moment is that we are discussing different priorities and why we feel they're important. So far, I don't believe anyone has contemplated stealing a museum's concertinas in order to forcibly restore them. B)

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So far, I don't believe anyone has contemplated stealing a museum's concertinas in order to forcibly restore them. B)

I've heard stories of exactly that happening with sets of uilleann pipes...

 

(One involving a piper I know!) B)

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This has been a very interesting discussion, and parallels the sorts of debates going on between museum professionals. As someone mentioned in this thread, there are trends and changes in thinking in the field, and of course there is very little that is black and white.

 

The trick of running a successful museum is to balance the competing, and often mutually exclusive, requirements of the artifact and the museum goer, and each type of artifact presents its own unique set of circumstances.

 

Ideal for most artifacts would be a perpetual, hermetically sealed exisitance in a completely dark and perfectly climate controlled environment, only being handled by trained conservators performing whatever preservation activities might be required.

 

This, of course, would not address the rest of the museum's mandate to research and present said artifact for the enjoyment and edification of the public.

 

Good modern museums try to find creative and effective ways to animate their collections without allowing them to be used up, worn out, and lost to future generations. Archival and modern recordings, controlled performances on carefully selected vintage instruments, performances on superb reproductions, or on similar instuments in private hands, sponsoring concertina related events like sea chanty days, making instuments available for testing and examination by qualified researchers: these are all examples of some of the ways this can be achieved without posing unacceptable risk to the artifact. I bet hearing Jody Kruskal performing on stage at the Brooklyn Museum has exposed all sorts of people to concertina music for the first time.

 

But, bottom line, curators take a very conservative approach, and usually err on the side of preservation when compromises have to be made.

 

The attached story is a good illustration of the benefits and pitfalls:

 

http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/music...for-old-strings

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The point is, to make an instrument playable will very likely involve destroying or at least modifying many of the features which make it interesting to a museum.

 

Who says that all restorations involve destroying ''valuable evidence''. Changing pads, repairing a few leaks in a bellow, or replacing some missing piece of veneer or whatever small restoring project will certainly not alter the possibilities to know how the instrument was made. Especially if you keep eventually replaced parts (so that the historical loose pad can be studied by half a dozen whitecoated scientists in a highly secure and dust free environment with electron microscopes to ascertain what kind of fibre was used at the time - sorry I am letting myself go now...), and to keep records of all restorations made to that object (common museum practice). So you just mark in your files attached to the object that a spring was changed (exactly specifying which one was changed of course), so that future scientists know which spring is a later substitute and look in the little plastic bag to find the replaced original!

 

Is it so important to know what a particular instrument sounded like, if it results in the destruction of other features of interest?

 

No, but we can argue what those features of interest may be! And if in fact if none of those features are being destroyed by restoring the instrument, please can I have some sound files? Especially those instruments that are on display (I am not talking about a total restoration of the whole collection...)

 

Is that really of overriding significance? We know in general terms what concertinas sound like, and it may well be possible to infer what an individual instrument sounded like by listening to similar instruments which have been restored.

 

We know in general terms how concertinas were made also. Sorry, I want to hear what is displayed, if possible of course.

I think some of you have a very restricted view of what a museum should be.

 

I now give up this thread. I am starting to repeat myself (and I am not the only one repeating himself).

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This has been a very interesting discussion, and parallels the sorts of debates going on between museum professionals. As someone mentioned in this thread, there are trends and changes in thinking in the field, and of course there is very little that is black and white.

 

The trick of running a successful museum is to balance the competing, and often mutually exclusive, requirements of the artifact and the museum goer, and each type of artifact presents its own unique set of circumstances.

 

Ideal for most artifacts would be a perpetual, hermetically sealed exisitance in a completely dark and perfectly climate controlled environment, only being handled by trained conservators performing whatever preservation activities might be required.

 

This, of course, would not address the rest of the museum's mandate to research and present said artifact for the enjoyment and edification of the public.

 

Good modern museums try to find creative and effective ways to animate their collections without allowing them to be used up, worn out, and lost to future generations. Archival and modern recordings, controlled performances on carefully selected vintage instruments, performances on superb reproductions, or on similar instuments in private hands, sponsoring concertina related events like sea chanty days, making instuments available for testing and examination by qualified researchers: these are all examples of some of the ways this can be achieved without posing unacceptable risk to the artifact. I bet hearing Jody Kruskal performing on stage at the Brooklyn Museum has exposed all sorts of people to concertina music for the first time.

 

But, bottom line, curators take a very conservative approach, and usually err on the side of preservation when compromises have to be made.

 

The attached story is a good illustration of the benefits and pitfalls:

 

http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/music...for-old-strings

 

I only just had the opportunity to see and listen to your attached story. Apart from the fact that I am pleased that these museum instruments were played again, I found the music (Purcell) breathtakingly beautiful.

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