In what feels like another lifetime I used to play the piano. I wasn’t a fantastic pianist by any means, but I took piano lessons for over ten years. After playing piano for so long, I’m always fond of seeing pianos when I travel, whether that’s on the street, or in a museum. Luckily for me, the Musée des Instruments de Musique (French) Muziekinstrumentenmuseum (Dutch) or in English The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Brussels has pianos, and a lot more.
The MIM was the one museum I really wanted to visit on my short trip to Brussels. Established in 1877 the MIM is a museum that has thousands of musical instruments from around the world. There were instruments I’d heard of like pianos, guitars, cellos, etc. There were also instruments I’d never heard of before like a duda and an ocarina. Actually, I’d heard of an ocarina before (from playing the video game Legends of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time). I thought the instrument was something made up for that game, but it’s a real thing.
This isn’t a museum where you only look at the instruments; you can hear many of them (almost two hundred of them) as well. When you come to the MIM, you get a headphone set. When you see an instrument with a number beside it, then you can enter the number on the headphone set, and you’ll hear the instrument. There are written descriptions in French, and Dutch (two official languages in Belgium). Visiting a museum in a foreign country where you don’t speak or understand the language can be intimidating. Since you get to hear, many the instruments being played this is a great museum to visit, no matter what language you speak (or don’t). It’s one thing to see a duda, but another entirely to hear it. A duda, by the way, is a Hungarian bagpipe. Yes, it’s not just Scotland that has bagpipes, several countries have them actually.
Music is interesting to me because every culture has music in some form, but music varies differently from culture to culture. Visiting the MIM you see that drums/percussion instruments are found in almost every culture, but so are woodwind type instruments (like wooden flutes and oboes), bell and chime based instruments, and even bagpipes (like mentioned before). You may think you’ve heard one bagpipe or one percussion instrument you’ve them all, but visiting the MIM, I was surprised at how different instruments in the same family (like percussion, string, etc.) can sound. Being in Brussels, there are also many instruments detailing Belgium’s musical history. Did you know that the creator of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, was from Brussels?
Taking photos at the MIM is hard as most of the instruments are behind protective glass cases, causing reflection and glare on photos. That said the MIM is part of the Musical Instrument Museums Online, which is a collection of musical instrument museums from around the world. They have a visual catalogue of all the musical instruments in the MIM. Unfortunately, there isn’t an audio catalogue, so it’s well worth visiting the MIM in person. You can learn about some new instruments, and hear some music you’ve probably never heard before (or may never hear again). It’s a great way to spend an hour (or more if you’re like me) listening to instruments from around the world.
Things You Should Know
The Musical Instrument Museum is located at Rue Montagne de la Cour 2, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium. A general map of where the museum is in Brussels is found below. The MIM open from 9:30 am to 5 pm Tuesdays to Friday, and from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday, Sundays, and certain holidays. It’s closed Mondays, January 1, May 1, November 11, and December 25. Admission is €10 for adults 19-64, €8 for adults over 64, and free for those under 18. The MIM collection expands on four different floors of the museum and is worth at least an hour of time to see. There is a restaurant on the top floor of the building that is free to get to but is only open during museum hours.
While in Brussels I stayed at the BRXXL5 City Centre Hostel, which was an exceptional budget accommodation option. A clean, modern hostel that’s close to the Zuid-Midi Metro station, and a 5-minute walk to the main centre of Brussels (Grand Place/Grote Markt). I paid for my stay here. If you are not on a budget there are a variety of hotels in Brussels you can book here.
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Have you been to a musical instrument museum before? What’s the craziest sounding instrument you’ve ever heard?