Musical Museums

There is no such thing as “The Museum of the Marching Arts” … yet. In the meantime, you and your group can learn about music from several different institutions throughout the country.

Photo courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Cleveland, Ohio

Visiting Cleveland will make you want to rock and roll all day and party every night instead because at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, you can spend several days exploring seven floors full of rock history. Recently, the museum also opened an annex in New York.

“People come in thinking they will be here for an hour or two, and six hours later they haven’t seen everything,” says Todd Mesek, vice president of marketing and communications at the Rock Hall. “We sell two-day passes because people want more time. You can get sucked into the place pretty quickly.”

Honoring the Stars

The Rock Hall aims to honor the genre’s greatest artists, preserve the history and artifacts of the music, and teach visitors about the profound social impact rock has had throughout history.

“In essence we are one of the only institutions that really tell the story of rock and roll, not just what the artists did but also the social significance of it in our culture,” Mesek says. “It’s an art form that touches us like any art form, but it’s also a cultural phenomenon that has changed laws and elected world leaders. You don’t pump your fist to a book or a painting; you do to a song.”

The permanent collections tell the story of rock and roll and include costumes, personal effects and instruments of some of rock’s greatest legends. The temporary exhibits have featured artists such as Elvis and Bob Dylan and currently feature Bruce Springsteen.

Throughout the Rock Hall, there are interactive elements and kiosks, including a Hall of Fame Jukebox where visitors can hear virtually every version of every song ever recorded by an inductee.

Power to Move People

The museum also prides itself on the educational opportunities and outreach programs that help teachers use rock to better engage with students, not just in music classes but also in geography, history, business and more.

“At the end of the day, we feel like music is arguably the most powerful art form because it has the power to move people to change political dynamics and comfort us,” Mesek says. “It has something that other art forms don’t. It has power, social responsibility, something that’s worthy of being examined, and we’re trying to do that here.”

And of course, marching students can rock too.

“I really feel like a marching band might appreciate [the museum] more than the average person because they understand what goes into it,” Mesek says. “Someone who is a musician and is more educated and classically trained can appreciate the power of the music and the craftsmanship, and they can learn about how some of their heroes go about their craft and the result. “Someone that comes from that world of being an artist and performing in a group can appreciate the power of music.”

Musical Instrument Museum


Opening April 24, 2010, the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) bills itself as “the world’s fi rst global musical instrument museum.” With a collection of more than 12,000 instruments from all over the world, visitors will be able to see, hear and play a large variety.

“The goal of the museum is to celebrate music as a common cultural element and a common bond that unites all of humanity,” says Alan di Perna, media relations manager at the MIM. “Music is one thing that you find in every country. We’ll explore the similarities and differences between these instruments and the country that they come from.”

Most of the MIM is organized into five Geo-Galleries featuring instruments from those areas of the world. A number of the galleries include instruments in marching band. The United States/Canada gallery, for example, has an exhibit on John Philip Sousa and the creation of the sousaphone.

“There’ll be many opportunities to see how the music that students are performing and practicing fits into a global texture of other contexts,” di Perna says. “In the Italy exhibit, there’ll be an exhibit of brass instruments that are played by military bands [The Bersaglieri] that don’t march while they’re playing —they run while they’re playing. There are opportunities to experience things that will be familiar but unfamiliar in other ways.”

The MIM will also feature an artist gallery housing instruments used by celebrities and an experience gallery where visitors can try out many of the instruments they see on display.

Guests will receive headphones and transmitters that allow them to automatically hear instruments being played as they walk up to them; songs may already be in progress as the visitors get close to the display, so that everyone near the exhibit has a collective experience.

“There’s not a need to punch in numbers, but as soon as the visitor approaches the exhibit, the transmitter will send the appropriate audio,” di Perna says. “One advantage to that system is that everyone is hearing the same music at the same time, which we feel is very important because music is a shared experience.”

The GRAMMY Museum

Los Angeles

The GRAMMY Awards celebrate the best in music each year—now they have their own museum to preserve the history of the famous award show and use it as a lens to inform people about the music industry as a whole.

“We’re trying to get people excited about music and illuminate the process,” says Katie Dunham, communications manager for The GRAMMY Museum. “So that when they hear songs on the radio, they are truly appreciating all the work that goes into it.”

Engaging With Music

The GRAMMY Museum particularly prides itself on its many interactive multimedia elements. “You can see 18 guitars on the wall, but you’re not learning much about it that way,” Dunham says. “We have touch screens, multimedia, things that you’re doing yourself. You can hear six songs in any given space, and you’re engaging with the music.”

Throughout the museum there are many dynamic touch screens, interactive kiosks and pods that take the visitor through every stage of a song from writing to recording to engineering. “Even though we don’t necessarily explore the marching band activity itself, there’s certainly plenty of GRAMMY performances that featured marching bands,” Dunham says. “A lot of the Rose Parade bands come to the museum.”

From the Red Carpet

True to its name, the museum also has a section dedicated to the GRAMMY Awards and show production, explaining the nomination process and even displaying some of the most memorable red carpet outfits.

In addition to the permanent exhibits, traveling and temporary installations are also popular. Currently, “Michael Jackson: A Musical Legacy” is drawing large crowds.

The museum hosts a number of education programs and special events. Due to the organization’s close relationship with top recording artists, some of them, such as the Jonas Brothers, have dropped in to speak with school groups.

“This experience is great for music beginners and fans,” Dunham says. “The average experience is one or two hours, but I’ve known people to spend four or five hours.”

Museum of Making Music

Carlsbad, Calif.

The history of the musical products industry is something generally not known to the public, but you can learn all about that and much more at the Museum of Making Music (MOMM).

A division of NAMM, an international music products association, MOMM started in 1998 as a member-only showcase and opened up to the public in 2000.

“The goal is to showcase the history of the music products industry and music making but also provide a means for people to encourage the future of music making,” says B.J. Morgan, marketing and promotions manager for MOMM. “We share the stories of people who made instruments and engage the public to make music on their own as well.”

Vintage Instruments

The museum displays more than 450 vintage instruments. The galleries are divided chronologically in 20-year periods, each showcasing the instrument innovations of the time, housing kiosks that play music samples, discussing the business practices in that era and displaying nostalgic recreations of a music store.

“The collections help tell the story of music making in America,” Morgan says.

Time to Experiment

Visitors don’t just look at the instruments; they get to play them too. The museum’s interactive area features guitars and percussion instruments for people to try. Soon the museum will add a set of The Beamz—laser beams that are played by running your hands through them.

“We find that a lot of people enjoy the interactive area,” Morgan says. “A normal trip through the museum is an hour, but some families will spend an additional hour just playing on all the instruments.”

Temporary exhibits have covered famed artists such as The Beatles or Glen Miller and explored specific instruments such as the ukulele or the violin.

“We’ve had a few marching bands through, and I think what they really get out of it is a perspective as to where these instruments that they play really come from,” Morgan says. “They get a sense of not just how music has evolved but the evolution of the instruments.”

Rhythm! Discovery Center


Perhaps with the most focused subject matter of the music museums, Rhythm! Discovery Center explores all things percussion—its history, evolution and role in our everyday lives.

New Experience

Rhythm! formerly existed as the Percussive Arts Museum in Lawton, Okla. When the Percussive Arts Society (PAS) relocated to Indianapolis, so did the museum, taking the opportunity to completely revamp its mission and image.

“This new discovery center is more hands-on and interactive; the previous museum was more static; it was more of a passive experience,” says Jon Feustel, director of marketing and communications for PAS. “Here you’re going to be able to interact with the exhibits and touch buttons and watch videos and hear examples, and we have a whole room that’s dedicated to hands-on activity.”

The interactive room contains percussion instruments that visitors can try as well as two acoustic Wenger practice rooms that allow the player to hear what they’d sound like in locales such as a recording studio or a concert hall.

Across Cultures

Rhythm! opened in November 2009 with exhibits such as “Journey of a Rhythm,” which details the development of the clave rhythm across cultures and “Percussion from Stage to Screen,” a look at the life of Clair Omar Musser.

Located in downtown Indianapolis and next door to the offices of Drum Corps International, Rhythm! is a short walk for anyone attending DCI World Championships or Bands of America Grand Nationals at Lucas Oil Stadium down the street.

“A museum like this is important because it kind of gives us a way to reach out to the public and show them that there is more to drumming and percussion than what may be stereotypical or what they hear on the radio,” Feustel says. “When they’re at a Broadway play or watching a movie, they’ll know the sound might be coming from a percussionist or that one rhythm can be used in different countries around the world. For us, it’s an opportunity to share that appreciation for rhythm with everyone.”

Experience Music Project


The evolution of the Experience Music Project (EMP) has been as amorphous as the Frank Gehry-designed building it lives in. What started out in 2000 as founder Paul Allen’s plan for a Jimi Hendrix museum soon morphed into a popular music museum and experience, and then expanded into the Science Fiction Museum (SFM) and Hall of Fame.

A Place to Play

The EMP goal is to inspire creativity in music while honoring past legends of the industry. “When people come to the museum, whether they’ve never picked up an instrument before or are a pro, there’s something they can do that is hands-on,” says Maggie Skinner, spokesperson for EMP|SFM. “We hope it will inspire them to create more music after they leave.”

The most popular aspects of the EMP are the interactive elements. There’s a sound lab where visitors can play instruments, get tutorials and record a demo CD; an onstage experience where they can take home a DVD or concert poster of their performance; and, as part of the current rock photography exhibit “Taking Aim,” an area where guests can dress up in costumes to take and edit promotional shots that are uploaded onto Flickr and accessed at home.

“That’s sort of our claim to fame, if you will, to have an interactive piece to every exhibition,” Skinner says. “It really helps us reach our younger audiences that are learning about music. They can understand with something that is more tangible and interactive than the typical exhibition.”

Education for Everyone

EMP also hosts a number of educational programs and summer camps including a “Camp Rock”-style program for teens and annual Pop Conference in April that is free for the public. According to Skinner, students of the marching arts will enjoy the EMP and find something to interest them. “Anyone who’s a musician will get something out of coming to EMP,” Skinner says. “Maybe they aren’t guitarists or keyboardists, but they can take what they already know and try it against a new instrument. There’s something here at the museum for you if you listen to music or play an instrument. You can learn something new, definitely.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial assistant at Halftime Magazine. She has played flute and marched at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the USC Trojan Marching Band, where she is now a graduate teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from USC and is currently working on a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts).

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

The Fun Factory

How is playing a brass instrument similar to playing with a Play-Doh Fun Factory? Read this article by jazz trumpeter Chase Sanborn to find out. ...