Museum’s instruments will play to larger audience – through books

Gary Ombler photographs the Stradivari guitar at the National Music Museum Friday morning. Many of the museum’s holdings were photographed for the upcoming Dorling Kindersley book, “The Story of Music.” (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

Gary Ombler photographs the Stradivari guitar at the National Music Museum Friday morning. Many of the museum’s holdings were photographed for the upcoming Dorling Kindersley book, “The Story of Music.”
(Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

By Travis Gulbrandson

The collection at the National Music Museum (NMM) in Vermillion is known by scholars throughout the world, but thanks to an upcoming book it may become more familiar to the casual music fan, as well.

From Feb. 4-11, photographers representing Dorling Kindersley Publishing took pictures of more than 100 of the museum’s holdings for a volume to be called, “The Story of Music.”

“It’s great exposure for us,” said Dr. Cleveland Johnson, NMM director. “We habitually share pictures of our instruments. That’s something that we do all the time, and always have. But most of the publications that we have worked with in the past are academic publications.”

Usually, this means a scholar from a very specialized field is seeking very specialized pictures, Johnson said.

“We’re talking about academic books that have print runs of maybe 300-500,” he said. “They’re very specialized, and end up in academic libraries or the shelves of other specialists.”

By comparison, the DK volume could have a print run of up to 19,000, Johnson said.

“It’s a much bigger audience for our instruments, so obviously, it’s a great opportunity to get our instruments out there and to get our name out there,” he said.

Based in the United Kingdom, DK specializes in illustrated reference books for people of all ages, including the Eyewitness Travel series.

“Their books kind of center around the images … so you really go from image to image, and you have very informative, easy-to-read captions,” Johnson said. “They’re not academic in any sense. They’re really for a general audience.”

The relationship between the NMM and DK began through an e-mail exchange with the museum’s senior curator, Dr. Peggy Banks, when the publisher requested an opportunity to photograph a small set of instruments.

“I was very, very excited when I heard about that,” Johnson said. “My kids grew up with the DK Eyewitness books, and I was thinking, ‘Wow, how gorgeous our instruments would look in one of their publications.’

“So, it was a no-brainer for us to try to get them here,” he said.

To encourage DK’s visit, the reps from the NMM made sure the publisher knew the museum could be a “one-stop shopping” opportunity for their photographers.

“Rather than just these dozen or so instruments that they asked about, we could easily provide basically everything they needed, and they could just stop looking,” Johnson said. “I got the sense that they were looking at different museums and institutions to find the things they needed.”

Three photographers arrived from the UK early this month and stayed for the next seven days, taking pictures of everything they could.

Although their schedule was too packed for them to comment, Johnson said the process of photographing items in the NMM’s collection was going well.

“They’re pretty much working around the clock,” he said last week. “They start before we open, and they continue into the evening hours. I’m not around when they finally finish.”

The photographs were taken with the assistance of two NMM staff members.

“(The photographers) came with a list that had been worked out in advance with our staff,” Johnson said. “They had been combing through our Web site, which has a lot of our stuff in it, but by no means anywhere near all of it.

“So, once they’re here in the facility, other things catch their eyes,” he said. “They keep finding things they’re interested in.”

The instruments were photographed surrounded by a white background in the lower level of the museum.

“What you end up with is just the instrument (in the picture),” Johnson said. “Instruments are not easy to photograph because obviously, you need to avoid reflections, you need the detail that really shows them off to their best.”

Johnson said he does not know the exact publication date, but guesses the book could hit the shelves – including those at the NMM itself – by the end of the year.

“I know based on their reputation it’s going to be a gorgeous book,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. I really can’t wait to see it.”

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