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What is the National Music Museum?

Founded in 1973 on the campus of The University of South Dakota in Vermillion, the National Music Museum (NMM) & Center for Study of the History of Musical Instruments is one of the great institutions of its kind in the world. Its renowned collections, which include more than 15,000 American, European, and non-Western instruments from virtually all cultures and historical periods, are the most inclusive anywhere.

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The National Music Museum

The NMM is fully accredited by the American Association of Museums in Washington, D.C., and is recognized as "A Landmark of American Music" by the National Music Council.

The NMM was founded as a partnership between The University of South Dakota, which provides staff and facilities for preservation, teaching, and research, and the Board of Trustees of the NMM, a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation that is responsible for acquisitions, public exhibiting, and programming. The Board of Trustees is totally dependent upon support from NMM members, individuals, corporations, foundations, and governmental units.

The NMM's meteoric rise to world-class status has attracted international attention, and each year the NMM attracts thousands of visitors who make the pilgrimage to Vermillion from all 50 states and many other countries.

Highlights of the Collections...

NMM 5055.  Grand piano by Manuel Antunes, Lisbon, 1767

The NMM is the only place in the world where one can find two 18th-century grand pianos with the specific type of action conceived by the piano's inventor, Bartolomeo Cristofori. One of these, pictured here, and built in 1767 by Manuel Antunes of Lisbon, is the earliest signed and dated piano by a maker native to Portugal; the other, built by Louis Bas in Villeneuve les Avignon in 1781, is the earliest extant French grand piano.

A group of more than 500 instruments made in the late-19th/early-20th centuries by the C. G. Conn Company of Elkhart, Indiana, is a resource unparalleled anywhere for historical research about a major American industry and the American band movement.

NMM 13000.  Signal hunting horn by Wolf Wilhelm Haas, Imperial City of Nuremberg, 1754-1759

The NMM's holdings of brass, woodwind, and stringed instruments by 17th- and 18th-century Nürnberg craftsmen, including members of the Haas and Oberlender families, Ernst Busch, Paul Hainlein, and Jacob Denner, is unique outside of Germany.

The NMM's holdings of 17th- and 18th-century Dutch woodwind instruments by such makers as Richard Haka (represented here by a soprano recorder made ca. 1690), Hendrik Richters, Philip Borkens, and Abraham van Aardenberg is unique outside of The Netherlands.

NMM 4202. Descant (soprano) recorder by Richard Haka, 
Amsterdam, ca. 1680
NMM 3351. Violoncello by Andrea Amati, Cremona, before 1538

The Witten-Rawlins Collection of early Italian stringed instruments crafted by Andrea Guarneri, Antonio Stradivari, three generations of the Amati family, and others by far surpasses any in Italy. Included are two of only three, 17th-century Cremonese stringed instruments preserved in the world today in unaltered condition, represented here by the NMM's spectacular tenor viola by Andrea Guarneri, made in 1664.

Most significantly, the sum of these groups of American, Dutch, German, and Italian instruments (not to mention the many other such important groups in the NMM's collections) is to be found nowhere else in the world.

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Finally, the NMM has rich holdings of related objects and archival materials, such as the unequaled Salabue-Fiorini-De Wit-Hermann-Witten-Rawlins Collection of 650 violin makers' labels.

There are violin-making tools and Baroque fittings, early harpsichord and fortepiano tuning hammers, and 1,000 brass instrument mouthpieces from virtually every turn-of-the-century manufacturer.

The NMM’s Musical Instrument Manufacturers Archive (MIMA) includes more than 22,000 trade catalogs, price lists, periodicals, photographs, and related ephemera documenting more than 2,400 musical instrument manufacturers and distributors (with an emphasis on American manufacturers) to support organological research and cataloging. It is unparalleled elsewhere.

The NMM’s specialized research library includes more than 5,000 volumes, as well as more than 20,000 periodical issues to support organological research.

The Archives and Special Collections, I.D. Weeks Library, at USD, in collaboration with the NMM, received the Mahoney Music Collection from John P. and Barbara Mahoney as a donation in June 2006. The collection includes more than 4,800 books, magazines, pamphlets, and ephemera on all facets of stringed instruments and is one of the most comprehensive collections of books about violins and violin family instruments in the world, with the capability to support research on instrument lineage, historical performance and exhibitions.

The Facilities...

The NMM is housed in a 20,000 square-foot, climate-controlled building, where 1,100 representative instruments are exhibited in nine beautiful galleries, such as the Abell Keyboard Gallery, pictured below.

A tour of the Abell Keyboard Gallery

The Arne B. Larson Concert Hall has superb acoustics and provides a perfect setting for performing and recording music played on original instruments of various historical periods and cultural milieu. There is a specialized library, extensive study-storage areas, and a laboratory for the conservation and restoration of the instruments.

Visiting Scholars...

Scholars from this country and abroad make frequent use of the NMM's collections and facilities, providing an important opportunity for students to meet and work with individuals on the cutting edge of musical research.


The NMM presents collection-specific concerts with appearances by Gustav Leonhardt, Stanley Ritchie, Elisabeth Wright, Paul O'Dette, Jaap Schroeder, Richard Savino, Max van Egmond, Anner Bylsma, Arthur Haas, Bernard Brauchli, Malcolm Bilson, Eric Hoeprich, Eduard Melkus, London Baroque, Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet, The King's Noyse, Bach Chamber Soloists, Chestnut Brass, Baltimore Consort, Helicon, Musica Pacifica, Flanders Recorder Quartet, Hesperus, Folger Consort, Locke Consort, Ensemble Project Arts Nova, Angeles String Quartet, Musica ad Rhenum, Stadler Trio, Mozartean Players, The Musicians of Swanne Alley, and many more.

Seminars, Conventions, and Other Activities...

Participants in Great Guitars Conference
Panel discussion during
Celebrating Great American Guitars Conference
National Music Museum

For specialists, the NMM hosts many meetings, including the American Federation of Violin & Bow Makers, Guild of American Luthiers (twice), American Musical Instrument Society (four times), the Violin Society of America, the Society for 17th-Century Music, Midwest Historical Keyboard Society, Midwest chapter of the American Musicological Society, and NEH-funded interdisciplinary seminars; e.g., Venice in the Age of Monteverdi 1575-1650 and Joseph Haydn and the Culture of 18th-century Vienna. The NMM hosted the 25th-anniversary international meeting of the American Musical Instrument Society in 1996, with participants coming from four continents, fourteen different countries, and some thirty states. In 2000, the NMM's own international conference, The Pre-Classical Piano: Expressive Claviers and Their Repertoire in the 18th Century, brought together scholars, instrument makers, and performers from around the world who are on the cutting edge of research about the early piano.

Finally, the NMM presents a series of Friday-noon brown bag lunch programs. These more informal events provide opportunities to explore and share the NMM's many unique dimensions.

All of these activities, along with frequent recording sessions in the NMM's concert hall, provide opportunities to interact with musicians and scholars from around the world.

National Music Museum
The University of South Dakota
414 East Clark Street
Vermillion, SD  57069

©National Music Museum, 1998-2014
Most recent update:  April 4, 2014

The University of South Dakota
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