Vermillion’s National Treasure

Posted: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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I was about 12, I suppose, when our Boy Scout troop took a field trip to Brookings and the home of Arne B. Larson to see his collection of musical instruments from all over the world.
I don’ know if you’ve seen the TV show “Hoarders” but they have nothing on Arne B.
I remember walking through a pathway of all sorts of musical instruments stacked from floor to ceiling which he’d been collecting since childhood. Some looked old but familiar but most were strangely foreign having come from exotic places like Africa, India and the Far East. Arne B., head of the Brookings Public Schools music department, could reportedly play every one of them and, in fact, did give a few of us wide eyed boy scouts a demonstration or two on our tour.
In the mid-sixties, he became a music professor at USD and he brought his collection of 25 hundred rare and exotic musical instruments with him to Vermillion in several grain trucks. They became the core of the National Music Museum which has since grown to house many other collections and some of the rarest instruments in the world.
Arne B’s son, Andre, inherited his father’s passion and, as a Doctor of Musicology, serves as museum director.
Under Andre’s leadership and knowledge of all things musical, the museum, housed in the beautifully restored Carnegie Library building, today contains over 14 thousand musical instruments representing the earliest and most historically important pieces ever assembled anywhere on earth.
They include some of the earliest and rarest pianos and harpsichords from the 1700’s that have been restored to perfect playing condition. 
There are stringed instruments from all of the Italian master makers including Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri.
You’ll also find the world’s finest collection of brass horns from the C.G. Conn Company as well as the fascinating Alan Bates harmonica collection.
 It’s just one awe inspiring exhibit after another.
The museum contains hundreds of more contemporary musical instruments too; guitars from BB King, Barbara Mandrell, Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Johnny and June Carter Cash. You’ll even find President Bill Clinton’s saxophone here.
As part of the self guided tour, you not only see the instruments but actually get a chance to "hear” recordings of them being played; like the priceless “Harrison” Stradivarus violin made by Antonio Stradivari himself in 1693. Dr. Andre Larson realizes that to be totally appreciated, these violins need to be heard so occasionally he will  bring some of these precious irreplaceable instruments out of their glass cases and allow a few lucky musicians to actually play them for a special concert..recording every beautiful note.  
It’s amazing that we have such a world class storehouse of musical history right here in South Dakota thanks to the passion and dreams of a crotchety music collector living in a much too cluttered house.
If you’ve not been there before you must go. First spend some time browsing the National Music Museum website.(Click Here) But once you’ve seen it in person, you’ll be amazed and, perhaps…like so many others.. wonder how we can have such a precious jewel of a place way out here on the prairie.
Well, as old Arne B. Larson was so fond of saying, “It’s no farther from New York to Vermillion than from Vermillion to New York.”  

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