It may now be the Year of the Dog, but Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China only lasts through May 6 at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona.

The MIM, in partnership with the Henan Museum in Zhengzhou, is offering an interactive tour of the most venerable music collections in Chinese history - all for only $10 ($7 with paid MIM admission).

You may have heard the old sailing expression, Don't send a boy aloft to do a man's work? Well, that's why I asked my musician-friend Andy Robinson to help unfurl these ancient musical sails.

During a personal tour, he spoke with Colin Pearson, MIM's curator for Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East exhibits.

Robinson: I know it's impossible, but I'd love to try playing most of the instruments on exhibit! I really appreciate John Thompson's study of the silk string zither and items like the Yangshao red ceramic drum that's roughly 6,000 years old.

Pearson: In order to give a sense of chronology to our guests, we showed instruments from the oldest to the 19th century, from all the major Chinese dynasties.

Robinson: This exhibit took, what -- three years to coordinate with the Henan Museum? But it's really been 9,000 years in the making.

Pearson: By working with the Henan Museum directly, we have access to their collection that reaches back all the way to the earliest known examples of music in all of China...from some of the very first stages of music, all the way through the Bronze age -- where you get things like huge ritual orchestras that would have played to reinforce the power of courts during the time that Confucius was alive.

Robinson: I also love the idea of relating harmony in music to harmony in life.

Pearson: Confucius, in particular, and many other Chinese philosophers valued harmony between people, between the living and ancestors. Musical harmony is a metaphor for generating harmony.

Robinson: It's even reflected in the ceremonial art here.

Pearson: Yes, you'll see artworks from the time of the Silk Road to ceramic figures that noblemen would have had made, so that they could enjoy them in the afterlife.

Robinson: But we don't have to wait until then - thanks to your interactive exhibits and videos. The audio and video quality are absolutely stunning!

Pearson: We have video monitors throughout the gallery, all of which have completely new material that was produced entirely by the MIM. All the music is played by the Huaxia Orchestra from the Henan Museum. They play replicas of many of these instruments in the period costumes.

Robinson: This exhibit offers fascinating and previously-hidden strands of harmony to those willing to listen.

Shi Bi, a Zhou dynasty scholar, sums it up best in this quote: "A single sound is nothing to hear, a single color does not make a pattern, a single taste does not satisfy the stomach, a single item does not harmonize."

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From This Author Lee Cooley