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Mission of the Stearns Collection

The mission of the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments is to preserve musical instruments, advance organological knowledge, and to promote understanding of world cultures and musics. To achieve this mission, the Collection actively mounts displays of musical instruments, presents lecture-recitals from national and international performers/speakers, and provides opportunities for organological research. These activities support the musical and intellectual research of the faculty and students at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, University of Michigan, and also complement the diverse interests at the University of Michigan, aiding its role in the creation, exploration, and understanding of culture in local, state, national, and international communities.

Musical instruments from the immediate and remote past are not only precious objects that deserve preservation, they are also evidence of human creativity, musical technology and heart-felt expressions. Every structural and stylistic feature of a musical instrument is meaningful, reflecting the resources their creators have, the sounds they desire and the messages they want to communicate. Musical instruments reveal evidence of people and cultures and deserve to be preserved by the best means available. Every one of the musical instruments in the Stearns Collection is a treasure of humanity that we want to preserve for not only ourselves but future generations.

Embodying peoples’ musicality and cultures, musical instruments constitute a repository of organological knowledge that needs to be studied, transmitted to all interested practitioners while being preserved for the future. Advancing organological knowledge is particularly critical for the present as the standardization of musical instruments in the global market silences distinctive traditions. Holding more than 2,500 musical instruments from all over the world, the Stearns Collection is in a unique position to advance research that will help to sustain and disseminate knowledge about world musical instruments.

As precious and meaningful as all historical and current musical instruments are, they are mere physical objects if they are not used to give voice to the hearts and minds of the peoples living in diverse sites and temporalities. When used expressively, musical instruments and the sound they produce constitute a means for all of us to hear the cultural, ethnic, social, spiritual, and individual yearnings and understandings of humanity.  The Stearns collection aspires to bring a full experience of these instruments and the meanings they carry to audiences of all ages.  Our programs of concerts, lectures, displays and publications about world musical traditions are designed so that audiences may listen skillfully and sympathetically.