Music to my ears!

Celebrating International Music Day – 1st October

Photos and text by Karen Kindt, Collection Manager, First Nations Cultures

I start my day off listening to classical music on the radio. As the day progresses my music choices transition to 70s, 80s and 90s pop culture. In the evenings, I love exploring and listening to different music genres and musicians. What do you listen to? 

A recent discovery and my favourite ‘go-to’ at present is, Kenyan musician, Ayub Ogada and his haunting soundtrack ‘Kothbiro’, played on a nyatiti (five to eight-stringed plucked bow lute). I invite you to listen along too as you continue reading.

Why do we have music?

Music is an expressive art form. It is culturally diverse in style and universal across human society.

Intrinsically, music is embedded in our daily lives. We listen to music when we commute or travel, work, exercise, or relax. We access our daily music through radio, streaming, You Tube, concerts and live performances. We have our own ‘go-to’ personal, curated collections, accessed through digital and analog technologies such as, Vinyl records, CD’s and dare I say, mixtapes.

We also make our own music – whether it’s while singing in the shower or performing in a choir. We use our voice as an instrument or learn to play one or several different musical instruments.

Listening, participating or making music creates belonging and connectedness with others. Music is composed and performed for aesthetic, pleasure, religious, entertainment or ceremonial purposes. It can be deeply personal and aesthetically subjective, dependent of cultural morays, desires and experiences.

Music is powerful, it can evoke memory, emotional responses and feelings. Our music collections and play lists, are curated and listened to, according to our personal tastes, desires and moods.

Music in the museum

Music is represented in our museum collections. The collections hold musical instruments and technologies from the 19th and 20th centuries.

One of our significant World Cultures collections holds 830 traditional ethno-musical instruments from across the world. Known as the Charles and Kati Marson Collection, this collection was borne out of a collector’s desire to travel and seek out and acquire interesting and unusual traditional musical instruments from the Pacific, Asia, Africa and North and South America.

Researcher Grace Williams examines a Mali rattle

Originally from Brisbane and residing in Canada, Charles Marson began his collection in the 1970s, in Great Whale, Quebec in Canada, after receiving a gift of a frame drum, from a local Cree Indian elder. 

This inspired Marson to embark on a collecting journey that would span three decades, culminating in the acquisition of hundreds of instruments (filling his house to the brim), before he donated the collection to Queensland Museum, in partnership with Queensland Conservatorium, in 2002. 

Our ‘living’ collection

The Marson musical instrument collection is a glorious vision of sculptural wonderment. It contains instruments curious in name, form and style, made of wood, bamboo, metal, bone with rich embellishments of silver, semi-precious stones, feather, twine, leather, shell and seeds. It’s hard not to be intrigued or appreciative of the knowledge and artisan’s skill that has been applied to every instrument. 

The types of instruments in the collection include membranophone drums; idiophones such as bells, rattles, cymbals, gongs, angklungs clappers, slit drums, jews harps, xylophones; chordophones like lutes, mandolins, arched harps, zithers, lyres; and Aerophones such as flutes, pipes, trumpets, horns, mouth organs, shawms, and accordions to name but a sample selection of types.

Making music

It was Marson’s desire that the donated collection would be utilised for research, playing and performance purposes. 

We refer to the musical collection as our ‘living’ collection, where with careful assessment and management, some instruments can be loaned, played or used in special performances, which is unlike other museum objects which remain static in the collection. The musical instruments are brought to life as was intended – making music.

Internationally renowned Nepalese musician Dheeraj Shrestha engages with the Marson Nepalese instruments.

Size matters

The size of the Marson collection is enormous, occupying floor to ceiling shelving across several collection aisles in the collection storage area. One of the largest instruments in the collection is a Bamboo Orchestra percussion instrument, measuring 3 metres in length. The small instruments are tiny finger bells from Togo, Mali, and Mongolia, the smallest measuring 4 cm.

Community connections

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Marson collection donation. In acknowledgement, QM Honorary Research Fellow, Dr Kirsty Gillespie and I have begun connecting with communities whose musical instruments are represented in the collection. 

Sharing knowledge about the instruments and examining the associated documentation belonging to the collection, has opened future possibilities and opportunities, for some of the musical instruments to be played by community members. We can’t wait to hear the music!