January 20, 1997

Musical Instruments on Display at the Center for the Arts

A collection of musical instruments from Hawaii, New Guinea, Japan, and Native America is on exhibit in the lobby of the Middlebury College's Center for the Arts. The instruments are a gift of Mary Louise Lee to the College music department.

This collection of percussion instruments-Hawaiian stone and coconut clappers, gourd drums and rattles together with a Native American turtle shell rattle and other drums from New Guinea, Japan and the Navaho-was originally used by Middlebury College students for accent or accompaniment in dance classes and concerts, as well as theatre productions. Because Mrs. Lee combined elements of a wide sweep of cultures in the modern dance she taught at the College, she was always on a quest for instruments that might prove useful.

The collection grew over a period of years. Mrs. Lee and her husband, W. Storrs Lee, a former dean of men at Middlebury, acquired the instruments on display and others as they traveled throughout the world. Friends and family, aware of Mrs. Lee's interests, supplemented the collection.

Hawaiian instruments form a significant portion of the collection, reflecting the time the Lees spent on Maui. The most valuable instrument in the collection is the fragile, century-old Hawaiian gourd drum, which was a gift from Dr. Mary Pukui, a leading authority and writer on native Hawaiian culture. Never abused with drumsticks, the drum was beaten instead with the flat of a hand, usually by a female accompanist who knelt on the floor and set the rhythm for a chorus of dancers or vocalists. Since gourds of this dimension are no longer harvested in Hawaii, few such drums still exist.

After the exhibition, these instruments and the others in the collection will be available for music and dance classes at Middlebury. The exhibition will run through January 31, and is located on the second floor of the lobby.