South Dakota's shrine to musica


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The Beede Gallery gamelan and Asian display. (Bill Willroth Sr.)

By Ted Muenster

An international treasure in an unexpected place sums up the National Music Museum (NMM) on the campus of the University of South Dakota (USD) in Vermillion. With almost 15,000 musical instruments from virtually all of the world’s cultures and historical periods, the NMM preserves the largest and most comprehensive collection anywhere.

USD, South Dakota’s liberal arts and professional university, is located on the Missouri River bluff just 35 miles northwest of Sioux City, Iowa (north on I-29, then west on S.D. 50 into Vermillion), and has been the home of the NMM since its opening as America’s Shrine to Music in 1973.

The NMM began with the dream of Arne B. Larson, a southern Minnesota farm boy, who began collecting instruments in his youth. In 1966, he was persuaded to bring his substantial personal collection of 2,500 instruments to the USD campus and accept a faculty position in USD’s College of Fine Arts. Beginning with a single room in the former campus library, a stately limestone building built in 1905 with the benefit of a Carnegie grant, the NMM eventually grew to occupy the entire building, complete with sophisticated environmental and security systems designed to protect the instruments. Nine display galleries, an intimate concert hall and a gift shop are among the NMM’s current features.

Heading a staff of professional curators and others, Dr. Andre Larson, son of the founder, directs the museum. He literally grew up with the collection, which was originally located throughout the family’s home in Brookings, S.D., before relocating to Vermillion.

The National Music Museum front entrance and courtyard. (Bill Willroth Sr.)

To house its growing collection, academic programs and visitor numbers, the museum plans to add USD’s former 60,000-square-foot former student union to its complex and eventually construct a “link” joining the two buildings.

In addition to the instruments, the NMM has a major archival collection, including corporate records of prominent American instrument manufacturers. The instruments and archival materials are key components of the academic mission of the NMM and USD, which will admit its first Ph.D. students in the study and preservation of musical instruments in the fall, only the second such program in the world.

The NMM is known internationally for its superb collection of great Italian stringed instruments, especially those built in Cremona, Italy, in the 16th and 17th centuries by Antonio Stradivari, Andrea Guarneri and three generations of the Amati family. Several of the 16th-century instruments were taken back to Cremona last year on loan, where they were featured in a special exhibition to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Andrea Amati, in whose workshop the form of the violin family as we know it today first crystallized.

Other major collections on display at the NMM include keyboard instruments that date back to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries; American band instruments from the Civil War era; and a major display of great American guitars by D’Angelico, D’Aquisto, Gibson and Martin.

The NMM is located at the corner of Clark and Yale Streets on the south edge of the USD campus in Vermillion. It is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 2 to 5 p.m. Parking is available on the east side of the building or on nearby streets. Self-guided multi-media tour devices are available at the reception desk, and guided group tours can be arranged two weeks in advance. Admission is free, although a $7 donation for adult visitors is suggested.

NMM programming includes frequent brown bag lunch programs on Fridays during the noon hour. Additional information is available on the NMM Web site at , via e-mail at nmm[at]usd[dot]edu or by calling 605-677-5306.


View more pictures of the National Music Museum 


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