Year Nine Museum Project students took a trip to the University of Oxford's Bate Collection of Musical Instruments this afternoon to explore one of Oxford's less well-known and very fascinating museums.
We arrived to be greeted warmly by curator Andrew Lamb, and were then able to explore the extensive and highly varied collection. Students were delighted to be allowed to play some of the harpsichords and pianos, as well as to explore the many other instruments on display. These ranged from the familiar - cornets, trumpets, flutes - to the less familiar, such as shawms and serpent horns. Many of the instruments were beautifully and intricately decorated, with elaborate paintings on the underside of harpsichords and engravings in brass instruments.
Andrew explained to us that the Bate Collection grew out of an initial collection of woodwind instruments donated by Philip Bate in 1968. There are over 1000 instruments on display, and University of Oxford students are able to borrow items, making it a unique museum. He talked about how there is an important balance for the museum to strike between preservation and allowing the items to be experienced through touching and playing on them. The group had a range of questions for Andrew, from whether the instruments get tuned (yes, regularly), to whether it is possible to hear what they sounded like (also yes - we were played a recording of what an ensemble of 19th century instruments might have sounded like).
It was a fascinating and very enjoyable visit, which gave the Museum Project students an opportunity to experience a very different sort of museum to ones we have previously visited. We are very grateful to Andrew for welcoming us to the Bate Collection and talking to us about it.