The Life Cycle of Musical Instruments




Theme: The Life Cycle of Musical Instruments and MIRN’s first Q&A surgery

Date: Thursday, 12th October, 2017

Venue: The Pavilion, The Horniman Museum and Gardens, 100 London Road, London SE23 3PQ

Musical instruments can have curious and complex biographies! They often accumulate layers of wear, accretion, repair and modification, presenting challenges to all who come into contact with them.

This conference will explore the myriad ways that musical instruments have been adapted to extend their working lives, and the rationale behind such adaptations. What are the outcomes when new and old materials and past and present working practices meet? What values are relevant when we repair or change musical instruments, and how do we formulate an approach to accretions and interventions?

The conference includes 14 presentations from a broad spectrum of those who conserve, collect, display, restore and play musical instruments. The Keynote address will be given by Simon Waters, (Queen’s University, Belfast). See the Programme Summary. The full programme with abstracts and speakers’ biographies can be found here: Full Programme Abstracts and Speakers    A map showing the venue and nearest transport links can be found here.

At the Q&A surgery, which will take place during breaks and lunchtime (according to demand), members of the audience, who may bring (small) instruments or photographs, will be invited to pose questions to a panel of specialists. NB It will not be possible to accommodate questions regarding the valuation of individual instruments.

The conference day will be brought to a close with MIRN’s AGM to which all conference attendees are invited. Click for the AGM Agenda. The meeting will be followed by a social hour at The Capitol.

Further information for conference participants:

  • A Summary Programme will be provided. Please download and print your own copy of the Full Programme, if required.
  • The introductory tour of the Horniman’s Music Gallery led by Margaret Birley, Keeper of Musical Instruments, will take place from 13.00-13.15 (during the lunch break). A sign-up sheet will be available on arrival and up to 25 people will be able to be accommodated.
  • Sign-up sheets will be available for those who wish to ask a question during the Q&A sessions in the breaks. The categories of enquiry will be:
    • Conservation – General – during the first break, 10.25-10.45
    • Instrument Identification and Documentation – during the second break, 15.25-15.45
    • Interpretation and Research – during the third break, 17.30-17.50

Three or four members of the MIRN Steering Group will be available for consultation during each Q&A session.

Registration is now closed. Those already on the waiting list will be notified by Monday, 9th October should a place become available. 

Watch this space for upcoming events and reports of recent activities.


  • 5-7 October 2017. WoodMusICK – 4th Annual Conference – Call for papers.  The fourth and final conference of the COST WoodMusICK action will be dedicated to the preservation of wooden musical instruments. The conservation of such instruments involves the preservation of tangible and intangible values. Conservators face various dilemmas in balancing the preservation of the current state of an instrument (conservation), with returning to its previous or original state (restoration) and/or making instruments functional again (repair). The conference will also address establishing criteria for the use of instruments (playability). Details.


  • Several MIRN members attended the one-day workshop on ‘Music & Material Culture‘, held at the University of Cambridge on Wednesday, 7 December. Mimi Waitzman (Chair, MIRN) writes:

The one-day conference in Cambridge, billed as a ‘workshop’, on Music and Material Culture brought together an array of disparate topics that attempted to give shape, substance and meaning to the very broad theme. We learned of many ways that material manifestations of music and music-making extend beyond musical scores and instruments to furniture, buildings, scientific endeavour and even philosophies of exhibiting music and musical materials in museums. The different relationships that societies construct between music and the other arts were also explored. All-in-all, a stimulating day with many mind-opening discussions and presentations.

Gabriele Rossi-Rognoni, Curator of Musical Instruments at the Royal College of Music, London, and MIRN member, giving a paper on ‘Defining “Old” vs. “New” Organologies’ at the workshop in Cambridge.
  • MIRN members Jenny Nex (Secretary) and Arnold Myers attended the Museums Association Conference in Glasgow on 7-9 November where they represented MIRN at  a stand dedicated to all Subject Specialist Networks (SSNs). Jenny writes:

Representatives of MIRN contributed to the presence of Subject Specialist Networks at the Museums Association Conference in Glasgow in November.  The trade fair area, which included representatives from a wide range of businesses and organisations which support museums, their staff and their users, was a busy space, particularly at break times.  Conference delegates were able to meet representatives from a number of the different networks and to find out more about us and what we offer.  It was important for MIRN to be visible here since many collections contain at least one musical instrument and most collections don’t have a musical instrument specialist.  It was also useful to meet representatives from other networks and to discuss ways which we could work across networks in the future.

Jenny Nex representing MIRN, the UK’s Subject Specialist Network for Musical Instruments, at the Museums Association Conference in Glasgow in November. MIRN leaflets can be seen in front of her on the table.