Visit time: July 2005
Situated in the La Villette Park at the northeast of Paris, the Cit'e de la Musique is a center for performance, education and exhibition. The Paris Conservatory is just nearby, so this is actually a popular area for music people.
It’s been some years that I started collecting materials about museums with music as its major theme. I still remember that I got to know this museum in 2002, when I just returned home from Paris. I was sorry that I didn’t do my homework before I left for the trip and decided that it’d be one of the must-go for the next trip to Paris.
I visited the official web site before I left for Paris. It seemed to enter a “low-season” because students were on their summer vacation. In any case, it is one of the museums rich in collections of musical instruments. Though I could not have a complete idea of the activities of the museum in this visit and could only visit its exhibitions, it’s not difficult for me to arrange a trip to Paris. So I decided to have a general look of the museum first so that I wouldn’t leave any regret this time.
My sister-in-law and I arrived the museum at 4PM. She is quite familiar to the center because it’s one of the places that she often visited when she was studying in Paris. However, for all those years she’s never been to the museum, it’s quite a pity from my point of view. I could understand that one could be extremely busy for school. I was in London for a whole year and didn’t visit all museums in London. I regret a bit but in any case I didn’t have that much free time for visits. After all, the program of museum studies also took us to various field trips and weekends were mostly left for writing reports and studies.
We had about only two hours. From my past experiences, two hours for visiting a museum is quite enough because more than that my brain starts to feel the “burden”. Also, with the ICOM membership card I can get in for free, so we still entered the museum.
The entrance of the museum is a counter full of headphones. We were asked, “ do you want it?” I was thinking that we might have to pay extra for the audio-guide and there wasn’t enough time. When I was about to say no, she added, “it’s for free.” So why not?! We took it with gratitude. I asked for English guide and my sister-in-law asked for the French one. After adjusting the volume, we went into the exhibition area.
The museum is quite new. No matter the facilities or environment control meets standard. When I stepped into the exhibition, I was feeling good. The exhibition follows chronological order, presenting music and instruments from 16th century to present time. Under the time period, it’s further divided into categories following types of instruments. There’s short description to accompany the exhibited pieces. Along with the audio-guide, the history and developments of the musical instruments are told. There’re also sounds and selected music pieces of various instruments in the audio-guide. However, for the sensor of the guide and the way of broadcasting, one could possibly pop in an explanation in the middle and has to wait for its beginning. In any case, the quality of the interpretation and music is rather good that the uncomfortable feelings caused by the headphone and broadcasting can be stood, even ignored. Sometimes we even slowed down our pace just to enjoy the music!
We saw quite a lot “curiosities”, for example, various sizes and styles of lutes, flutes, violins and pianos. These surprising feelings and joy couldn’t be expressed through a few words. It’s a pity that not all sounds of the exhibited instruments are included, and there’re not too many original manuscripts as we expected. My regrets lied at the fact that the visiting time was short and I spent more than one hour in the first one-third of the exhibition. When I realized it, there’s only 40 minutes left. The museum shop has been always one of my focuses and I had to leave at least 20 minutes for it. So I walked through the remaining two-third of the exhibition in 20 minutes, taking quick photos and unintentionally skipped the part dedicated to electronic instruments.
It proved that it’s mission impossible to finish visiting this museum in two hours. If one listens to the music and explanation carefully, it’ll take at least three hours. Since I didn’t finish the exhibition, I was thinking to bring back home a guidebook with me. However, there’s no English version available and the French language is just too foreign to me. It’s a bad news… but I wouldn’t leave it there so I still bought it and decided to “guess” when I have more time to read.