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Musical history preserved at Claremont museum

Brenna von den Benken
Staff Writer

Approximately 1,400 Ameri­can, European and ethnic instruments dating from the 17th century to present day of most types are displayed in three thematic rooms at the Kenneth G. Fiske Museum of Musical Instru­ments at the Claremont Colleges.

The Fiske Museum is the only major museum of musical instruments in the Western United States.

According to the mission statement of the Fiske Museum, it exists to present a balanced program to collect, catalog and preserve musical instruments throughout history.

“Its mission is to teach about instruments and their evolution, as well as provide direct access to visitors, students, teachers and scholars through museum programs, concerts and activities,” curator Albert R. Rice said.

The Fiske Museum serves as one of the most prominent storehouses of musical instruments in this country which serves as an educational and entertaining experience.

With 450 instruments on display the history of the music is catalogued for guests to enjoy.

Among the displayed instruments are the earliest documented grand piano by Chickering & Sons from Boston in 1850, the only triple-manual reed organ by Mason & Hamlin in 1889, the earliest dated American-made Boehm-system flute made by Alfred G. Badger in 1866, a square piano by Breitkopf & Haertel in 1840, and a rare complete set of Over-the-Shoulder saxhorns by Hall & Quinby in 1872.

“To see the evolution of instruments from 200 years ago is astonishing,” museum visitor Elizabeth Ochoa said.

“I can only imagine what musical instruments we’ll have 200 years after today.”

The Fiske Museum also presents one of the largest and most diverse collections of 19th century brass instruments in the United States.

More than 30 keyboard instruments including 18th century pianos, two harpsichords and several significant reed organs that the average American may have never even seen in his life.

“I never knew how primitive tools from the past can offer the same entertainment we get from today’s musical society,” museum attendee Melissa Olguin said.

“They may have gotten simpler and easier to use today, but Music is timeless, and so are these instruments.”

A large selection of plucked and stringed instruments cloak the walls of the Fiske Museum.

In addition, since diversity is key in music, a large selection of non-Western instruments from many countries around the world are also made available.

Free admission to the museum allows attendees from all over to enjoy the historical exhibition.

However, a box for donations is open to all who are eager to support the preservation of musical influence and figurines.

Rice also prepares appraisals of certain instruments to meet a variety of needs.

Instruments not available for Rice’s services are violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Appraisals are also available for a variety of items such as: market values to sell an instrument, estate evaluations, legal proceedings, tax credits for donations to non-profit organizations, insurance replacement valuation, and any other situation that requires a professional determination of value in regards to the musical instruments at the museum.

Brenna von den Benken can be reached at

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