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Music Gallery, Horniman Museum and Gardens

London, England

Music Gallery, Horniman Museum and Gardens

The Horniman Museum and Gardens is a late-Victorian South London institution known for its varied and rich 350,000 object collection. In the 1860s, Frederick John Horniman, Victorian tea trader and inventor of the tea bag, began collecting natural history specimens, ethnographic artifacts, and musical instruments from around the world. Since 1913, the musical instrument collection has grown to include 8,000 objects. The oldest of these is a pair of bone clappers in the form of human hands made in Egypt around 3,500 years ago; the latest are electric guitars and synthesizers.

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RAA was asked to reimagine and re-present the museum’s Music Gallery. Reflecting the museum’s mission “to encourage a wider appreciation of the world, its peoples and their cultures,” a vast chronological and geographical range was displayed. The instruments were collected from around 500 different cultural areas. They were arrayed in a central block of three showcases arranged longitudinally, in a wall case that extends almost the whole length of the gallery.

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Advanced media brings to life some of the 2,000 instruments on display. A 28-meter-long interactive installation with 3 listening tables invites visitors to “play” instruments, to hear the sounds they make, and to learn about the people who create and play them. An adjacent hands-on room enables visitors to play unusual instruments from all over the world.

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In concert with other gallery updates, the museum now sees around 950,000 visitors per year, up from fewer than 250,000 at the turn of the millennium.

Year 2002

Size 4,400 square feet

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