Bringing back the dead can be a tricky business. The psychic stuff aside with all their bells and whistles, there’s the art of museology and the challenge for any curator not to conjure up an exhibition that feels sad and jaded like a Victorian funeral.
The Hellenic Museum in Melbourne has a new exhibition on, ‘Sounds of the Muse – Greek Musical Instruments through the Centuries’, and it is most impressive. If you have ever wondered what those instruments depicted on ancient Greek vases look like both in actual size and dimension, then this is an opportunity not to be missed. Because transforming the 2D into actual 3D, and we’re not talking blockbuster cinema, is a genuine privilege as it is a luxury.
‘Sounds of the Muse’ is what museology is all about: to strip back all the biased historical rhetoric and the soppy nostalgia and to show what the past might have actually been like. “We are very lucky to have people like Kostas Kostasnos for this incredible collection of ancient instruments,” said Vicky Yianoulatos, the Chief Executive Officer of the Hellenic Museum, when speaking of the Creator & Director of the Museum of Greek Musical Instruments in Greece – the home of most of the instruments on display.
“He is not only a great cultural resource with an incredible knowledge of Greek culture and history, he was also very helpful in making this exhibition happen.” The exhibition features a wide range of instruments, representing the wind, string and percussive sections. For example, the forminx, the lyre, the megadis, cymbals, drums, syrinx, flutes – the list is endless.
Admittedly most of the pieces are duplicates, the real deal from Ancient Greece being either such a rarity or too inaccessible, no matter how large your chequebook. Amongst all the corporates at the launch there was one actual musician present, the mad monk himself Nick Tsiavos, who was most admiring of one particular piece – which wasn’t a duplicate.
“There are different degrees of authenticity here of course, but I am very attracted to this well-used lyre with the pick up. It has obviously done some savage things in and around Melbourne for quite a few years,” he said. Tsiavos did express that although the duplicates didn’t perhaps resonate with the same life force as the lyre. “It is nonetheless an exhibition that is really worthwhile and inspiring.”
Of all the art forms, music does bring out the finest our life giving attributes. I’m reminded of the Save the Tote protest that took place last year in Melbourne, where thousands of people from all walks of life came out to show their support for local live music venues.
Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs Nicholas Kotsiras was present at the exhibition. With that famous sparkle in his eye he said: “I think this exhibition is very relevant, because it opens doors to other cultures and other conditions and history and what better way to learn about Hellenic history than through this exhibition.” And as a way of reminding us of the bigger picture, he added, “If you look at any other art, the art that brings people together and makes other people understand each other, it is music and it is music that teaches people about mutual respect and harmony.”
What was perhaps lacking at this launch was the presence of the sound of music, even through a CD, to liven up proceedings and remove the typical elements of corporate formality. However, as the tireless Vicky Yianoulatoss said: “What I’m really excited about is for the duration of this exhibition, we will be having live performances with some of these instruments. “Because it’s not just about looking at things in glass cabinets, it’s about feeling, seeing and breathing and getting all your senses heightened. “These performances will been done by local talent, who perform both here and overseas. Because its not just about Greece and how wonderful we are, but also about promoting our own musicians and I really do think that that is just as important,” she added.
The exhibition runs from April to July 2011.