'This museum is a gem' Vermillion institution topic of public TV program Members of the University of South Dakota Gamelan Ensemble perform on the National Music Museum's unique Javanese gamelan for filming by the crew of the Great Museums television program. Musicians include, from left, Lee Randall, Mike Cwach, Jeanie Dommer and Maggie Knudsen. by David Lias Fate was hard at work last fall when Marc Doyle, president of Echo Productions, began his drive home to Georgia following an enjoyable South Dakota pheasant hunt.
"I was driving home with a friend of mine. We're driving home down Interstate 29, and I was listening to a National Public Radio station, and a public service announcement came on, and it said be sure to go to see an upcoming event at the National Music Museum in Vermillion."
Doyle was naturally intrigued. He's one of the executive producers of Great Museums, a program that's broadcast on public television stations across the country.
Doyle said he had never heard of the Vermillion museum. "And the next thing I know as I'm driving along, I look up and there's a billboard on the side of the road that says 'visit the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota.' Now I'm really intrigued. I made a mental note to look into it when I got back to my office in Georgia," Doyle said.
He found an e-mail on his computer when he returned to work, written by an employee of the Vermillion museum, encouraging Doyle to check out its Web site.
"I went to the Web site and it is outstanding, and I went to my wife's office � she happens to be a partner in our company � and I said, 'We're going to do a show about this music museum. Wait until I tell you about it. It's in Vermillion,'" Doyle said.
Doyle said it didn't take long for personnel of Echo Productions to begin making plans to come to Vermillion.
"This museum is a gem in America," he said. "We got here in a very serendipitous way that I think was meant to be. Fate and pheasant hunting pushed us on our way."
Doyle, other producers from the program, and a film crew arrived in Vermillion Thursday. They descended on the National Music Museum, concentrating their efforts with interviews of museum staff on Thursday and Friday.
On Saturday and Sunday, they turned their cameras on the institution's extensive collections of musical instruments.
It was an exhausting, exhilarating experience, said Andr� P. Larson, director of the museum.
Students and staff were filmed performing on the
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museum's unique gamelan collection Thursday. Larson and other staff members were questioned for hours by Doyle and other staff of Echo Productions.
On Saturday and Sunday, Larson and staff members painstakingly removed several instruments from their glass cases so they could be filmed.
"I was exhausted when it was all over," Larson said, "but I wouldn't have missed it for anything."
Public television will show 13 episodes of Great Museums from now throughout the summer.
The National Music Museum in Vermillion will be featured in a new season of Great Museums programs that will be broadcast starting this fall.
"We are in the business of telling the stories that the museums tell. That may sound obvious, but it could be a variety of things. Our program starts with the premise that the story that the museum tells is interesting, entertaining in the broad sense of the word, and compelling," Doyle said. "America's history and culture is being preserved and protected inside the walls of its museums. If you search for the American identity, you'll find the source material for that identity in its museums.
"On that basis, we select museums to be featured in the Great Museums series, and we hope that the summary of the Great Museums productions will be one way that we will learn about and become more involved with their American identity," he said.
Doyle and his crew researched the Vermillion museum by studying its extensive Web site and reviewing a book that features some of its publications.
They had never been in the building, however, before their visit here last week. They were astounded with what they quickly discovered inside the museum, located on The University of South Dakota campus.
"Without doubt to me, the most compelling thing about The National Music Museum is the astonishing depth and diversity of its collections," Doyle said. "I think that in that regard, it is in unique in the world. It's possible to go to France, for example, and see an outstanding collection of French instruments in a museum there. I don't know anywhere where you can go and see an outstanding collection of instruments from all over the world. I think that is the most compelling dimension of this museum's story.
"Clearly, the Larson family has made a contribution of extraordinary dimension to South Dakota and to America by turning this collection into something that can be enjoyed by the public and the academic community at large," Doyle said.
The National Music Museum was founded in 1973 on the campus of USD. Its collections include more than 10,000 American, European, and non-Western instruments from virtually all cultures and historical periods.
A focal point of the Great Museums television program is to share information about unique museum collections of American culture. The Vermillion museum, Doyle said, helps to tell that story.
"I have particular interest in the American collection, because our series is about great American museums. The American musical instrument story is one that very few average Americans know anything about," he said. "The Vermillion museum has a collection of instruments from the Conn Company in Massachusetts, a company that in its day was one of the premiere instrument makers in its day. The impact it had on the cultural landscape of America during its life was significant.
"I think along the same lines, the museum documents with pictures and artifacts what is called the golden age of American bands, which began shortly after the Civil War in 1865 to approximately 1914, the beginning of WWI," Doyle said.
It was an important period, he said, because no radios existed, and the only way Americans could experience music is when a band played. Nearly every town in America that played publicly during that period of time, and that was how that music was experienced and enjoyed in those days."
While packing a lot of activity into just four short days, it was clear that Doyle and his staff were enjoying themselves as they strolled among the priceless instruments in the museum.
They will have their work cut out for them when they return to the Echo Productions office in Atlanta, GA.
They will have to edit hours of film they shot in Vermillion last week down to 30 minutes, the length of each Great Museums program.
The show featuring the National Music Museum, Doyle said, will likely air this September.