Jayson Dobney is an associate curator and administrator in the Department of Musical Instruments.
Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2014
A recent acquisition that has been installed in gallery 684 is an early American banjo. This antebellum instrument was made by William Esperance Boucher, Jr., the earliest professional maker of the instrument and an innovative craftsman. Born in Germany, Boucher immigrated to Baltimore, where he sold a wide assortment of musical items and was known as a maker of both drums and banjos. Boucher helped to standardize many features of the banjo, and is credited as the first to use metal rods that allowed the player to adjust the tension on the skin head—a feature that he likely borrowed from some drum makers who were beginning to tension drums in this manner.
Posted: Monday, June 30, 2014
The side drum is probably the instrument most associated with important civic and patriotic holidays in the United States, including the Fourth of July. While drums of all types have been regularly employed to rouse the spirits of armies heading into battle, or to strike fear into their opponents, their most important function in warfare was as signal instruments that conveyed commands to dispersed troops. The side drum—named as such because it hangs on a sling to the player's side—was an important part of European military life from the fifteenth century through the nineteenth century, and is still used for ceremonial functions today. Throughout colonial times and the Federal period in the United States, the instrument was a common sight in towns and villages, as it was used to sound the alarm and to summon members of the local militia for mutual defense.
Posted: Monday, June 16, 2014
Every year in June, a royal military event known as "Trooping the Colours" is held in London. The event is an official celebration of the monarch's birthday, even though their birthday could actually be any other time of year. Among the many formal displays of pageantry that occur during that celebration is a review of the Household Guard Regiments. On that occasion, the drummers of the Household Cavalry bands use special silver kettledrums—extraordinary instruments have been a part of the court's pomp and circumstance since the nineteenth century. The drums used in London are closely related to a pair of silver kettledrums that are a part of the Department of Musical Instruments' collection here at the Met.
Posted: Monday, May 5, 2014
One of the frequently asked questions by visitors to The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments is whether the large organ that presides over the equestrian court is ever played. The answer, in fact, is yes—the beautiful instrument with gold-leaf façade pipes in a fifteen-foot-tall Greek Revival–style case is used several times a year in demonstrations and concerts for the public, and can also be heard on a variety of commercially available recordings.
Posted: Monday, April 28, 2014
The exhibition Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C.F. Martin, on view through December 7, brings together more guitars by Christian Frederick Martin (1796–1873) than have ever been publicly exhibited before. Among the many treasures that can be seen in this exhibit is the earliest known guitar built by Martin. The instrument (above) was built around 1834, at which point Martin was working in his New York City workshop at 196 Hudson Street, an area of the city now known as Tribeca, near the Holland Tunnel. In that shop he repaired instruments, sold musical items that he imported from Germany, and both built and sold his own guitars.
Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Bells have been used in the Latin Mass of the Roman Catholic Church since at least the eighth century. A tradition developed of setting aside the bells during Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday, as their ringing was considered too joyous for such a somber time of the liturgical year and the bells were said to have flown to Rome. When the bells were not in use, they were replaced by a cog rattle—a noisemaker that produces a loud rattling sound when whirled around by its handle. This tradition still continues in certain Latin American countries.
Posted: Friday, March 21, 2014
On March 21, 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach was born into a musical family in Eisenach, Germany. Depending on the source, the date of his birth is listed as either March 21, on the old Julian calendar that was still in use where Bach was born, or March 31, the date on the new Gregorian calendar that is currently the standard.
Posted: Monday, March 17, 2014
Musical instruments have the power to transcend their roles as performance objects to become symbols of love, war, ritual, identity, and even politics. In Ireland, for instance, the harp has been an important emblem of national identity for more than eight hundred years. The harp was used during the Middle Ages to accompany epic tales for entertainment, as well as to impart history. Later, traveling musicians moved about the country and used the instrument to impart news, share songs, and tell stories.
Posted: Monday, March 10, 2014
Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C. F. Martin, currently on view through December 7, traces the innovation of Christian Frederick Martin (1796–1873) and his development of a distinctly American form of the instrument. In conjunction with the exhibition, Rosanne Cash recently performed at the Museum and toured the Musical Instruments galleries, where the Grammy Award–winning musician shared a few of her thoughts about what a guitar means to her.
Posted: Monday, February 10, 2014
One of the earliest American guitar virtuosos was the African-American Justin Holland, who built a steady career as a performer, composer, and arranger, even before the Civil War. One of the most important guitarists of his generation, Holland was also an avid endorser of the guitar-builder Christian Frederick Martin, many of whose guitars are currently exhibited in Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C. F. Martin, on view through December 7.