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October 15, 2009 - Image 9

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2009-10-15

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the

-side

weekend
essentials
Oct. 15 to Oct. 18

SAVING OLD
*SOUNDS.
A HOME ON CAMPUS FOR
FORGOTTEN INSTRUMENTS
BY LEAH BURGIN |I DAILY ARTS WRITER

I ELEVISIUN
Before there was
"SNL," the world had
Monty Python. Though
the Pythons have
been largely inactive
since "Monty Python's
The Meaning of Life"
was released in 1983,
IFC is airing a mini-
series documenting
the comedy troupe's
rise to greatness
and graceful fall into
cult fandom. "Monty
Python: Almost the
Truth (The Lawyer's
Cut)" premieres
Sunday at 9 p.m.
ON DISPLAY
Grey skies, barren
fields, solemn figures
- not the ingredi-
ents for cheery art.
Still, photographers
Robert and Shana
ParkeHarrison prove
there can be beauty in
bleakness. Their sur-
real, monochromatic
portraits explore the
isolation of humans
in a world dominated
by technology, chaos
and suffering. Their
work is on display in
the Slusser Gallery on
North Campus from 9
a.m. to 5 p.m. tomor-
row. The event is free.

Among the roughly 2,500 instruments preserved in the Stearns Collections are a Javanese gamelan,
the first mass-produced Moog synthesizer, the theremin used for the radio show "The Green Hornet"
and a collection ofttrumpets donated by a former trumpeter of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

FILM
"Under Our Skin," a
documentary about
the untold effects of
Lyme disease, plays
tonight at 6:45 p.m. at
the Michigan Theater.
The movie exposes
how America's health
care system has fre-
quently misdiagnosed
the disease, which
affects three million
people nationwide.
The condition can
become debilitating
if left unchecked.

There are always
new things to
discover about
the instruments,
and they start
to tell very long,
complex stories.
- STEVEN BALL
DIRECTOR OF THE STEARNS COLLECTION

tifully hand-
varytng tn
shape and
size, stretches
out across
the room. The metallic bars of
several xylophone-like instru-
ments glint dimly in the harsh
fluorescent lighting. Decora-
tive curly-cues of golden dragon
tails morph into snarling snouts
that guard the massive instru-
ments upon which they perch.
The first question: "What is
this thing?"
The second: "CanI touch it?"
This monstrous and unique
instrument,aJavanesegamelan,
is the jewel of the Stearns Col-
lection of Musical Instruments.
Traditionally used to accom-
pany Javanese shadow-puppet
shows, this obscure instrument
is rarely found outside of East
Asia. Even though this mag-
nificent treasure is housed right
here on campus, many students
don't know of its existence.
Too bad the Stearns Col-
lection is similarly obscure. If
more students knew about it,
more would take the opportu-

nity to touch - and even play -
the gamelan.
It's not surprising that the
Stearns Collection is over-
looked - less than 5 percent of
its approximately 2,500 musical
instruments are permanently
displayed, and of this small per-
centage, the majority of the dis-
plays are tucked away in a widely
unpopulated wing of the School
of Music on North Campus.
This wasn't always the case,
though. Between 1914 and 1974,
the entire collection enjoyed
constant exposure and public-
ity. Housed in the upper lobby
of Hill Auditorium (where some
remnants of the old exhibit still
remain), the collection used
to be widely admired. Indeed,
according to the collection's
website, "many long-time Ann
Arborites still remember how
the displays looked" from this
time period.
So why the devolution? Why
should students care about
some moldy old instruments
that have fallen into obscurity?
What makes the Stearns Collec-
tion so special?
Originally donated to the
University in 1899 by Frederick

M. Stearns, a wealthy business-
man and pack rat from Detroit,
the collection is unique in that
Stearns collected everything.
Similar to his acquisitions of
parasols, mummies, conch
shells and mollusks, no instru-
ment was beyond Stearns's
interest.
Since then, the collection has
grown from Stearns's donation
of 940 instruments into a behe-
moth containing around 2,500.
Because of the efforts of several
individuals the collection has
earned world-wide notoriety
among selected circles. Past
director Robert A. Warner pro-
motedthe collectioninthe1950s
when an interest in authentic
performances with historically
accurate instruments arose.
Professors William Malm and
Judith Becker traveled to Asia
in the '60s and '70s and brought
backmany eastern instruments,
including one of the earliest
complete and playable Javanese
gamelans.
Just by browsing the col-
lection's online catalogue on
Google Books or actually visit-
ing the displays, one can under-
See STEARNS, Page 4B

CONCERT
Too broke to see Wilco
this weekend? No wor-
ries; Gandalf Murphy
and the Slambovian
Circus of Dreams
are coming to The
Ark tomorrow! Often
branded as "Hillbilly
Pink Floyd," the band
will be celebrating its
annual Hillbilly Pirate
Ball, which means you
should come costumed
and prepared for a wild
show (purple pancakes
may be involved).
Tickets are $25 and
the show starts at 8
p.m. (doors at 7:30).

PHOTOS BY SAID ALSALAH & DESIGN BY MO STYCH

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