The Edmond Sun

Arts & Entertainment

January 18, 2013

Treasure trove of instruments has small-town home

Vermillion, S.D. — If I were to ask you where you might find the largest collection of musical instruments in the United States, what would you guess? Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles? I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t guess Vermillion, S.D.

Is the National Music Museum there the largest? I’m not sure — there are some things Google just doesn’t tell you. But I guarantee the collection here, if not the largest, has got to be close to the top. A beautiful stone building, a former 1908 Carnegie Library, on the campus of the University of South Dakota, houses more than 15,000 instruments from many parts of the world and spanning many ages. Nine galleries with 20,000 square feet display pieces from the collection.

It’s here because of a band director and musician, Arne B. Larson (1904-1988). He began collecting instruments when he was in his early 20s, buying them up cheaply when Congress legislated the pitch standard for “A” to 440 vibrations per second. Older instruments, tuned higher, became obsolete.

During World War II, Larson provided foodstuffs and necessities to Europeans who bartered their instruments. He contacted missionaries who sought out unusual and exotic instruments for him. Even Lowell Thomas, a world traveler and commentator, contributed, sending him a cobra-inspired horn from India.

His collection filled rooms in his house in Brookings, S.D., and he began to look for a permanent home for the instruments. An offer from the University of South Dakota to teach in the Department of Music put Arne and his instruments in Vermillion. In 1979, Arne and his wife, Jeanne, donated the aggregation, to be housed at the university, to the state of South Dakota. His collection comprised more than 2,500 instruments.

Since that time, the museum has acquired other instruments, including a number of collections — making the museum a collection of collections. Among these are the C.G. Conn Company’s collection of American band instruments, the Alan Bates Harmonica Collection and the William F. Ludwig II collection of 19th and 20th century drums.

For a former music teacher — me — this was Nirvana. And, like every press trip I’ve ever been on, there was not enough time to see even a third of the displays. But even in a short time, I saw amazing things. Here are some of my favorites.

The Rawlins Gallery features a permanent exhibition, “The Genius of North Italian Stringed Instrument Making: 1540-1793.” It blew my mind to see not only a Stradivari violin, but a Stradivari guitar, one of only two in museums, and a Stradivari mandolin, one of only two known to exist. In addition, there were instruments made by Guarneri and by members of the Amati family.

The Abell Gallery is dedicated to keyboard instruments and houses a number of early harpsichords and pianos. One of the largest instruments in the room is an 1808 Pennsylvania pipe organ built by Christian Dieffenbach.

The Lillebridge Gallery celebrates American guitars. One end of the room is the recreated D’Angelico/D’Aquisto/Gudelsky Guitar Workshop. The firm was noted for its excellent archtop guitars. In a nearby case stands a 1978 resonator guitar. The instrument is now commonly known as a Dobro.  The name comes from Ján Dopyera, a Slovakian who moved with his brothers Rudi and Emil to the U.S. in 1908. Ján designed and patented the instrument and the brothers started a company to produce them. The name is a blend of Dopyera and brothers.

The Beede Gallery features musical instruments of Africa, Asia, India and Oceana. Most of the room is taken up by a Javanese gamelan — a whole orchestra of instruments tuned to one another. They range from strings and drums to metallophones and knobbed gongs. The stands are made of teak and highlighted with gold leaf and elaborate carving.

My favorite instrument in the Everist Gallery, spotlighting the American music industry, is the Sgt. Pepper, heart-shaped trumpet, one of two created by master trumpet maker Dominick Calicchio. Twenty years after the release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” this trumpet turned up on eBay.  A generous donor made the purchase possible.  

One of the biggest instruments is on display in the lobby. The glaw’ng ae’, or goblet drum, is made from one piece of wood, hollowed out and carried on a cart. The 10-foot-long, half-ton drum is used in Buddhist temples in northern Thailand. This one dates back to the late 19th century.

This museum is not a hands-on museum, although accomplished musicians like Eugene Fodor have been allowed to play some of the rarest and most valuable instruments. For the general public, there are frequent opportunities to hear concerts at the museum and the self-guided audio tours provide examples of the sounds of music. While anyone can enjoy seeing the exhibits — for musical hardcores, this museum is heaven.

The museum, on the corner of Clark and Yale Streets in Vermillion, is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 2-5 p.m. It is closed on New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Adult admission is $10 with a $2 discount for seniors. Children are admitted free. For more information, visit or call 605-677-5306.

ELAINE WARNER is an Edmond resident.

Text Only
Arts & Entertainment
  • GooGooDolls.jpg Coming in August: The Goo Goo Dolls

    Tickets for the Aug. 5 concert, which are priced at $45.50 and $59.50, go on sale 10 a.m. Friday, April 25.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Woolaroc Woolaroc unveils story of the West

    The museum at Woolaroc has been referred to as “the Smithsonian of the West.”  It’s full of art and artifacts pertaining to western history and the southwestern region of the United States. So why is there an elephant’s head on one wall?
    To understand about the elephant, you have to know a bit about Frank Phillips, one of the founders of Phillips Petroleum. The company was incorporated in 1917 by Frank and his brother L.E.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • brisket2.jpg Food Network show visits Guthrie for ’89er Days

    Guthrie’s annual ’89er Days Celebration provides a variety of activities for people to enjoy including a carnival, rodeo, parade and lots of food vendors.
    This year, visitors at the 84th annual event, which runs Tuesday through Saturday, will notice an added bonus when a film crew from the new television series “Carnival Eats” will be in town filming for its inaugural episode.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drama troupe plans Good Friday performance

    Spirit Act Drama Troupe of First United Methodist Church, Edmond will present the passion play, “Christus” by Alison Spitz on Good Friday.

    April 14, 2014

  • mama rabbit 4-15 Good Reads

    NOTE: Email to have your name entered into a drawing for the following titles: “Taking Care of Mama Rabbit” and/or “Cheesie Mack Is Not Exactly Famous” Deadline is 10 a.m. April 21. Winner will be notified by return email. Winner is responsible for picking up the book at The Edmond Sun at 123 S. Broadway. All entrants must be 18 or older to win.

    April 14, 2014 3 Photos

  • Dillingham 1 Andersons provide enchanting afternoon with Dillingham

    Mo and Richard Anderson recently showcased the musical and performing talents of UCO's Ambassador in Residence Kyle Dillingham in a concert at their Edmond home.

    April 11, 2014 2 Photos

  • Stepping forward: The real Colbert

    Letterman changed the late-night TV game between his run on NBC's "Late Night" and starting the "Late Show" franchise in 1993. And while it's tough to replace a pop-culture icon, Colbert, in terms of pedigree and sense of humor, makes the most sense.

    April 11, 2014

  • VIDEO: CBS taps Colbert as Letterman’s Late Show successor

    Bloomberg’s Jon Erlichman reports that CBS has announced Stephen Colbert as its choice to replace the retiring David Letterman as host of “The Late Show” on Bloomberg Television’s “Lunch Money.”


    April 10, 2014

  • Where's Mommy 4-8 Good Reads

    NOTE: Email to have your name entered into a drawing for the following titles: “Where’s Mommy?” and/or “Say It Ain’t So!” Deadline is 10 a.m. April 14. Winner will be notified by return email. Winner is responsible for picking up the book at The Edmond Sun at 123 S. Broadway. All entrants must be 18 or older to win.

    April 8, 2014 3 Photos

  • ‘ACM@UCO Rocks Bricktown’ features Moby as headliner

    The Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma (ACM@UCO) will take over Oklahoma City’s Bricktown district with more than 70 ACM@UCO student bands in 14 venues as a part of its fifth annual “ACM@UCO Rocks Bricktown” event. The live music starts at 3 p.m.  April 11, with a “Sound Mixing for Feature Film” panel at 1 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.

    April 7, 2014