Musical Instruments on Display at the Center for
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.