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U of M houses more than 2,400 rare and contemporary instruments

Recent additions to the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments
Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio
Recent additions to the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments


The Cincinnati Art Museum last week discovered it had a long lost treasure trove of rare instruments in its possession. We're talking more than 800 antique instruments just sitting in storage, unused and pretty much forgotten.

Well it turns out the University of Michigan has three times as many historical instruments housed mostly off campus in a high-security vault.  

Steven Ball is director of the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments:

"This is the largest, most diverse and most important collection of musical instruments owned by any university in the world. It’s so remarkable it really almost defies words. There are instruments from every continent except Antarctica."

There are more than 2,400 instruments "from the extraordinary to the seemingly mundane," says Ball. The newest acquisitions in the collection are vuvuzelas, those long plastic trumpets that were very popular at the World Cup soccer games in Africa. Ball says the oldest instruments in the collection are bells from ancient Egypt, which are about 2,500 years old.

The collection used to be displayed in the lobby at Hill Auditorium, but the majority of instruments were moved to storage in the 1950s. Some instruments from the collection are on display throughout the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

"My greatest wish for this collection is to find our way to a place where it can be seen and appreciated by the general public," says Ball.

The Stearns Collection has a searchable database, which you can access here.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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