Duke University Musical Instrument Collections (DUMIC) Update

Monday, June 24, 2013

It has been well over a decade since the G. Norman and Ruth G. Eddy Collection of Musical Instruments took up residence in the lobby of the Mary Duke Biddle Music Building and became the Duke University Musical Instrument Collections (DUMIC). The pioneering group was soon joined by the Frans and Willemina de Hen-Bijl Collection of Musical Instruments, the Robert Miller Collection of replicas and other material, and numerous individual gifts. The collection is not only home to hundreds of instruments from around the world but also to paintings, printed music, slides, and reel-to-reel field recordings.

In 2012, Gillian Suss was hired to complete a comprehensive inventory of the Collections. A 2009 graduate of the Masters Program in Museum Professions at Seton Hall University, Suss found her calling through a museum internship at the Newark Museum the summer before her senior year at Vassar College, where she majored in art history. What she learned that summer, she says, is that "if I could work with art and collections of objects all the time, and physically handle all the objects, I would be in heaven." That realization led her not to the role of museum curator but to registrar, which involves "working with the collections, caring for the objects, and keeping track of them." Since graduate school, Suss has worked at museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, the Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill, the Nasher Musem, and with the City of Raleigh’s Municipal Art Collection.

Musical instruments are not just objects in another collection for Suss – music and instruments hold a special place for her. She played the oboe, clarinet, and alto saxophone for many years and while at Vassar, she minored in Music History. Suss wrote both her undergraduate and master’s theses about musical instruments.

Suss's first task with DUMIC was to complete a comprehensive inventory of all the instruments in the Collections – no small task since DUMIC's holdings number over 900 objects. She had the opportunity to handle most of the collection’s artifacts as she described, measured, and assessed each object’s condition. Among the standouts Suss describes are exquisitely delicate ivory flutes, South Asian stringed instruments with beautiful decorative inlay, and antique brass instruments aged to a fine patina. Beautiful or not, though, each instrument has a story to tell about the music it made and the people who created, collected, and played it.




The mission of DUMIC is not to be merely admired, but also studied and used by students, faculty, and local musicians. Now that the inventory is complete, Suss has become a policy-maker and facilitator. "One of my next goals is to create policy for the Collections and help assess it in terms of its historic value and what is valuable for us as playable instruments." Going forward, consultation with faculty and musical instrument experts is central, as an important goal for DUMIC is to make it a more active part of the Duke Music Department.


Suss recalls a horn student who visited the collection and was fascinated by an unusual instrument with interchangeable valves—the kind of thing an instrumentalist might read about but never expect to see, much less pick up and play. For Suss, "what a person brings to an object is what makes that object special." Her ultimate goal is to connect the collection with those who have the most to bring to it – so that people can know “what we have and know that it's exciting."



While the collection is not currently open for tours, you can keep up with it in these ways:


-       Check out the DUMIC blog

-       “Like” us on Facebook

-       Follow @DUMIC1 on Twitter


Or, email us at dumic@duke.edu or call 919-660-3320.