Cupcakes for peace?

Photo: Getty Images

I was in great company Saturday as I commemorated the 70th birthday of musician, artist and peace activist John Lennon at the MIM — the majestic Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

I was lucky to get there after my car died, apparently to show me who was boss as it slowed to a crawl on the freeway and I begged it to give me just one more round of 100,000 miles.

I was on the way downtown to drop Lizabeth off for a QSpeak Theatre event before heading to the MIM when my car started shifting itself into lower and lower gears.

This has become a rather unwelcome tradition for our family.

The last one to go was a white Volvo station wagon that never made it through the day long ago when I had three “stage mom” gigs — getting the kids to their annual piano recital, getting Lizabeth to something “Nutcracker” related and something else that has slipped my mind over time.

My husband James came to our rescue soon after we’d coasted to a local gas station, so I was able to get to the MIM in time for the 2:30pm performance by Tetra String Quartet playing works by John Lennon.

This gracious fellow was ever so patient as museum patrons made that all important decision -- chocolate or vanilla (Photo: The MIM)

I stopped first by the MIM Cafe, where elegant black and white cupcakes decorated with various musical symbols (what, no peace signs?) were being given out for free — and had to check a mirror soon after to assure I wasn’t making my way through the MIM with a cupcake moustache a la those lovely “Got Milk?” commercials.

The cupcakes were from the newly renovated Fry’s Marketplace at Tatum & Shea, which seems to have become a sort of museum of menu items and more in its own right. They’re especially yummy for those of us who enjoy a bit of cake with our frosting.

Soon the musical performance began, as well over 100 museum patrons looked on — sometimes humming, singing and clapping along while others the world over were similarly engaged in communal birthday celebrations for the legendary John Lennon.

Everywhere I turned there was an homage to Lennon. Greeters at the ticket counter donned eyeglasses with round rose- or blue-colored lenses. Middle age music lovers sported endless variations of Lennon t-shirts. I even ran into a young couple who told me of another museum guest whose arm is tatooted with Lennon’s self-portrait.

I never found the man with the inked homage, but I did locate the exhibit featuring the upright Steinway Lennon used to compose “Imagine” — and something called the “Peace Piano” nearby.

Displayed on the wall were guitars from various artists including Eric Clapton and Paul Simon. The MIM is a vast treasure trove of instruments from around the world — but you feel after seeing just this one space, dubbed the “Artist Gallery,” that you’ve died and gone to music nutopia.

The Tetra String Quartet performed for MIM patrons

Just next door on the first of two floors there’s a room where you can try your hand at all kinds of instruments from around the globe — drums, stringed-instruments, a giant gong and more. Kids find the “Experience Gallery” in a heartbeat and know instinctively what they need to do: Play!

At the other end of the first floor, there’s an open performance space for “museum encounters” featuring diverse musical styles, plus a gift shop full of things you just won’t find elsewhere — exquisite jewelry (much of it with tasteful musical themes), CDs and books featuring the music and people of dozens of countries and nations, and percussion pieces as essential as books to developing young imaginations.

I came home with black “MIM” guitar picks, bookmarks and postcards (including one depicting “Strawberry Fields” in NYC’s Central Park). I’m also the proud new owner of a children’s book titled “M is for Music” (written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Stacy Innerst).

The book opens with music-related quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche, Charlie Parker, Helen Keller and Frank Zappa. “B” is for Beatles. “K” is for Klezmer. “M” is for music, music teachers, mistakes and Mozart. And “W” is for whistling. What’s not to love?

My other favorite finds of the day included the books “Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d’Arezzo” and “Opera Cat” — plus a long list of CDs featuring everything from Persian classical music and traditional Navajo songs to Sufi music for whirling meditation and live performance by “Playing for Change.”

Jennifer and I first heard “Playing for Change” perform at the Mesa Arts Center, and hope to see them again when they perform at the MIM on Oct 26. While at the MIM on Saturday, I picked up the brochure for their 2010-2011 Concert & Film Season.

Upcoming performers include Lakota Sioux Indian Dance Theatre, Harlem Gospel Choir, ASU African Drum Ensemble, Young Sounds of Arizona and many more. I’ll profile the MIM’s film line-up in a future post.

One of many snappy dressers who embraced the spirit of the day (Photo: The MIM)

Before leaving the museum on Saturday, I headed to the MIM Music Theater — where a self-playing piano sat center stage, bathed in multic-color lights, playing Lennon’s music for those who’d made the musical pilgrimage that day.

One floor above sat a baby grand piano with an empty bench, available for anyone to play. A nearby sign beckoned folks to play their own variations of “Imagine.” No one heeded the invitation while I was there, but I suspect they were simply mindful of not getting all that cupcake icing on those glistening ivories.

Somehow I don’t think Lennon would mind.

–Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about an upcoming ASU event featuring Bill DeWalt, director and president of the MIM (which I learned about from my husband James).

Coming up: “Fences” and family foibles, Mesa meets Denmark?

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2 responses to “Cupcakes for peace?

  1. The broken-down car story reinforces my chief frustration with MIM: A world-class cultural facility chose an unfortunate location on the fringe of the city and difficult to reach without a car. Phoenix Theatre, the home of QSpeak, is centrally located near other cultural amenities, light rail, and multiple bus routes. MIM, on the other hand, is all by itself on its patch of recently paved desert. Just imagine the possibilities for collaboration and access if the founders of MIM had chosen adaptive reuse of an existing building or infill of a vacant lot over sprawl. Of course, MIM could have located anywhere in the world, and we should be happy to have it here, but the unfortunate choice of location within Phoenix will always frustrate me.

    • Hi David: Thanks for reading — and for weighing in. I’ll have to give more thought to the pros and cons of ‘cultural sprawl.’ I’ve always found the MIM well worth the travel time it takes me to get there, and can only hope that one day that area — and many others — will have greater ease of access thanks to public transportation options. It’s a challenge to get to the Valley’s many venues, but I’m enjoying these adventures and always feel they help me get to know my neighbors (both individuals and communities) better. Thanks again for giving us all something to really think about. Civic engagement is perhaps the finest art of all. –Lynn

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