Musical Side of Ann Arbor

Just walking down the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan, you can feel the city’s artsy vibe, and it probably won’t be long before you are hearing or seeing it as well. From its numerous live music venues to University of Michigan (U-M) facilities and programs there is plenty to discover.

Tucked away in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance on U-M’s North Campus is the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments. Launched in 1899, when Frederick Stearns, a music enthusiast and pharmaceutical businessman from Detroit donated his collection of more than 900 instruments gathered on trips around the world. The instruments were first displayed in 1914 at Hill Auditorium.

Slideshow: The Stearns Collection

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Professor Robert A. Wagner, who became director of the collection in 1956, expanded it with the establishment of an ethnomusicology program at the school. Other professors brought back instruments from field trips, including a Javanese gamelan in 1966, which is one of the most exciting exhibits and an integral part of the studies in world music. Named “The Venerable Lake of Honey,” its 75 gongs, xylophones, and other instruments are housed in one large room.

In 1986 the collection moved to its current site, the Margaret Dow Towsley wing of the E.V. Moore building. Today the collection has more than 2,650 instruments—the largest collection of musical instruments held by a North American university.

Among the fascinating instruments gathered from every corner of the world, are interesting domestic instruments, such as the trumpet collection of Armando Ghitalla (former principal trumpet player of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and U-M faculty member), the first commercially produced Moog synthesizer, and the RCA theremin used during the WXYZ broadcasts of The Green Hornet from 1936-1952.

The exhibit is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and almost the entire collection can be viewed online at

Cherie Yurco is a former editor at Making Music and has worked as a freelance editor and writer for over 20 years.

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