story and photos by Kayte Deioma
A true gem on the Mont des Arts in Brussels is the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), home to one of the largest collections of musical apparatuses in the world. Founded in 1877 as part of the Royal Museums of Art and History, the museum moved into the former Old England department store, an 1899 masterpiece of Art Nouveau architecture, in 2000. Twelve hundred of the 7,000 instruments in the collection are on display at any given time.
The instruments are labeled in Dutch and French. I was told there was a printed English language guide to help you navigate the museum, but they were all out of them. You can still enjoy the museum without understanding the descriptions since included in the price of admission is an infrared audio tour that plays the music of over 200 of the instruments when you stand near the designated headphone icon.
Listening to the rare and exotic instruments while admiring their artistry and craftsmanship becomes a more sensory experience when there’s no intellectual information to clutter the mind. You can experience the drone of Tibetan trumpets and the sinewy tones of serpent-headed Russian clarinets. In the keyboard section you can hear the difference between the harpsichords, spinets, virginals, clavicytheriums, clavichords and fortepianos.
Strings are also well represented with the work of some the best known luthiers, as well as many one-of-a-kind creations. Examples of stringed instruments from five continents can be compared from ancient times to the present.
Restoration workshops for keyboards and stringed instruments are integrated into the exhibit galleries and show the tools and processes of instrument construction and repair.
You can see a wide selection of brass horns developed by Belgian musician and inventor Adolph Sax, best known for designing the instrument that was to become known as the saxophone. In another direction, you’ll find the evolution of the bagpipe through different cultures around the world.
As if the music weren’t enough of a draw, the view of Brussels from the arched Art Nouveau windows in the 6th floor restaurant shouldn’t be missed. You can go up to the restaurant even if you’re not visiting the museum itself
MIM offers a series of concerts in their auditorium. On the first Wednesday afternoon of the month, the museum is free to the public and also presents a selection of live musical presentations in the exhibit galleries. They also offer family concerts on the free Wednesdays.
English-speaking tour guides can be hired by appointment for general or specific themed tours of MIM.