Musical Instrument Collections at Schools
Colleges, universities, and even prep schools are often the custodians for musical instruments of various types and ages. These instruments are understandably often found in the music departments of these institutions. They might, however, also be placed in a library, archive, or another relevant department, depending on circumstances. The most obvious reason for having instruments at these schools is making music, especially in the case of larger ones like pianos, harps, double basses, and all sort of percussion, which a student is less likely to own personally. But apart from instruments used by students, these institutions might also have acquired examples of historical interest or ones that have perhaps become so with the passage of time. There is a continuum in the historical and monetary value for all these instruments.
College faculty are understandably seldom equipped to evaluate these instruments, especially the more antique examples. As a result, historical instruments are often acquired somewhat haphazardly, frequently through well-meant donations. The acquisition of older instruments like this might seem worthwhile and exciting in the moment, but over time their function and place in a college setting can become increasingly less clear. Moreover, certain kinds of instruments (especially those employed for teaching and performance of world music), acquired as long ago as 70 years, might well have grown more valuable as cultural documents. Unfortunately, instruments of such age, often damaged or worn, are neglected in the larger scheme of a college’s mission.
What can or should be done regarding this myriad of instruments, at least some of which possibly deserve a better fate, an appreciative home, and a meaningful role? Members of The American Musical Instrument Society can serve as a resource to advise colleges about these instruments, and many members would be happy to do so. Depending on what a college determines is the best course of action with their instruments, AMIS can also help recommend persons trained in repair, restoration, and appraisal. And if a college decides that one or more of their instruments would be better located elsewhere, AMIS can help facilitate discussions about possible solutions for such a scenario. Most importantly, it is critical to recognize that some instruments in college collections are part of a shared musical and cultural heritage that needs to be preserved and studied whenever feasible and possible.