The Sound and Science of Music

Kids (and adults) can jam at the Montshire Museum's "Making Music" exhibit until mid-September

The Montshire opens a noteworthy exhibit.

Having grown up watching cheesy sci-fi films like The Day the Earth Stood Still on television, I've always been curious about the Theremin. You know the sound—the otherworldly music that foreshadows the creeping about of the creatures from outer space. (In case you don't, click here for a vintage video of inventor Leon Theremin playing his eponymous creation.)

Playing the Theremin is a hands off proposition.

I never really understood how the instrument actually worked, though, until I toured the Montshire Museum's recently opened exhibit Making Music: The Science of Musical Instruments.

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A Theremin is one of 14 instruments that visitors can play or play with—depending on their musical aptitude. I learned that the Theremin is controlled by hands manipulating radio waves. The left hand controls the volume. The right hand controls the pitch. Touch the instrument and the music stops. Turns out I have no aptitude whatsoever on the Theremin. Try as I might, I could not replicate the creepy sci-fi music of my youth, much less come close to this guy who played "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on the Theremin and got 4.2 million hits on YouTube.

I sounded better on the melodic propane-tank drum built by Burlington artist Tim Danyliw—but that was more a function of the drum than my skill as a percussionist.

Burlington artist Tim Danyliw made this drum from a recycled propane tank.

Making Music was conceived and built in-house by Montshire staff consulting with outside experts. (Some of these experts, local musicians, appear in videos as part of the exhibit.) The exhibit team of Bob Raiselis and Sherlock Terry spent two years on the project. During that time regular Montshire visitors aided the creative process. Various parts of the exhibit were displayed as standalone prototypes on the museum floor and museum staff watched to see if they worked as intended and tweaked them if they did not. 

The end result is a 2,500 square foot exhibit showcasing 34 different instruments. There are also 30 demo-videos and 28 hands-on stations including the garage band set-up. 

Coming up: The next Montshire Unleashed (the evening program for adults) takes place on February 10 from 6:00 until 9:00 P.M. The evening will focus on guitars and guitar-making in conjunction with the Making Music exhibit. Musicians are invited to bring their own instruments and jam at the museum. Click here for full details of what's planned for the evening. 

In the weeks ahead the Montshire will present a speakers series on how the brain interprets, experiences, recalls and processes music as part of Making Music. In the first talk (March 7 at 6:30 P.M.) Professor Michael Casey, the chair of the Dartmouth music department, will delve into the realm of brain science. Casey conducts neuroimaging research on how music is represented in the brain. He'll talk about the interrelation of music, the brain and society. Click here for the full list of speakers in the series. 

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