'Beyond The Beat: Drums Of The World' Exhibit At Musical Instrument Museum

Published: Friday, November 14, 2014 - 2:21pm
Updated: Friday, November 14, 2014 - 2:22pm
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(Photo courtesy of Musical Instrument Museum)
Some of the drums in MIM's exhibit.
(Photo courtesy of Musical Instrument Museum)
A pair of drum sets; the one on the right was played by Doug Clifford of CCR.

Consider for a moment the drum and all the different kinds of sounds that come out of it.

All that from an instrument that’s basically two parts. A new exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix looks at drums and their place in society.

"It gets at the ways in which drums are used, all across the world, the ways that they’re constructed, what they’re made of, and what they mean to people, essentially," said Cullen Strawn, curator for North America at MIM.

The show is called “Beyond the Beat: Drums of the World,” and it opens tomorrow.

"This was an opportunity to really draw on what we had in storage. We have currently about 110 musical instruments in this exhibition, and about 75% of those had not been seen by anyone yet at MIM," Strawn said.

Those drums, by the way, come from more than 40 countries. Strawn says drums aren’t just instruments – they’re part of some of our most important rituals – from coming of age ceremonies to trying to affect the weather.

"I think for many of us, even as young children, tapping or strumming or banging on things is a way in which we begin to engage with and understand the world," Strawn said. "And people all over the world are just like that."

Strawn says that’s especially true with drum sets – there are two of them smack dab in the middle of the exhibit. One is an early model, from the 1920s, that would have been used in early jazz and vaudeville. The second is a more recent set – used by Doug Clifford of Credence Clearwater Revival, starting in 1969.

Strawn says the two are definitely related – you can tell that by looking at them. But, he says the drum set’s evolution over the years is also apparent.

"There had been, as I said, a lot of refinements between that and the 1920’s, but the drum set still had a long way to go. So, if you compare this kit to drum sets that are made today, you’ll see even more differences," he said.

So, looking at all the drums in the exhibit is all well and good, but come on, let’s be honest, there’s only so much looking at drums one can do before one wants to bang on one. Strawn says, that’s cool – the museum commissioned a drum from a local Yaqui instrument maker – it’s six feet in diameter and surrounded by stools and mallets.

“Beyond the Beat: Drums of the World” opens at the Musical Instrument Museum tomorrow, and runs through June of next year. Some of the audio in this story was provided with help from MIM.

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