Sitting behind a glass case is a letter that seems too personal to be public. In it, a woman is told, ever so slowly, as words draw out, that this is the end of her relationship with the writer. There is a vacancy in his heart where love once resided and he expects this letter to be the last between them. A lasting and odd optimism lines the tail-end with him asking her for a personal photo for his scrapbook. A memento of what once was or just another piece in an unknown collection, is a curious ponder.
The letter is signed by Elvis Presley to a woman named Betty and is one of thousands of similar items on display at the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles.
“The difference between the Grammy Museum and other museums is that our artifacts are the central motivator of the stories,” said Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum. The museum is the first such institution that is devoted solely to music in Los Angeles.
Featuring collected instruments, outfits, memos, vintage recordings, and personal correspondence, the museum immerses visitors in the ark of musical history. However, it does not only cater to the 50-year history of the Recording Academy’s award ceremony. The museum spans the formation, fidelity, production, and social extensions of music and its role in culture as a conduit for creativity.
“When it comes to the various music forms, one of the biggest challenges as a museum is to make certain we were all inclusive,” said Santelli. ” The Grammy Awards are given to dozens of different artists and dozens of genres. Here you will find music that pays tribute to [each] particular form”.
In order to feature a medium that has no physical frame, the museum has relied extensively on the near ubiquitous implementation of multimedia for each of its four exhibits which climb each level of the vertical structure.
“We’re very interactive. We like to say we’re 21st century, in terms of concept. We use multimedia and tech to help tell the stories and allow you to dig deep into the music,” said Santelli.
Positioned at the top floor, the development of music through respective generations, geographic locations and the genres which stem from the influence of others are showcased through intimate and innovative stations.
Genres swim on a flowing crimson river that covers the surface of an 18-foot table as users fish for a brief understanding of the foremost artists that predominate that particular corner of music.
“This exhibit in particular is being called the genre table. It presents visitors with over 150 different genres of music that they can select on this,” said Amber Cartwright, who is in charge of the table’s software.
“Once they make a selection, they are presented with different samples of music within that genre, a caption about the genre and an image,” said Cartwright. “[And] bubbling up around it are relationships with other genres with that one in particular.”
Not to be buried under the cyclopean archive or busily sashaying between the aural wonders of the technical museum, those who want an inroad into a musical career either through education or performance can find it through the museum’s commitment to nearby communities.
The museum will play host to a variety of musical enrichment programs that open the opportunity for students to sit in a classroom built within a music-industry framework and is something that most universities cannot match.
“Music has a spectrum of careers,” said Melissa Runcie, Education Manager of the Grammy Museum. ” Students aren’t just coming to learn about music. They’re learning about problem solving, about leadership, all of those things that are essential for any kind of career.”
Runcie aims to reach students as early as elementary school but hopes to attract aspiring musicians from schools such as PCC.
“If we can establish mentoring programs and bring college kids in and get kids out to local colleges and get into music programs, that will be great,” said Runcie.
Likewise, the museum aims to use its allotted stage at LA Live and within its own walls to give local artists a sizable venue.
The stage within the museum will also serve as house for symposiums, lectures, unplugged presentations, and town hall meetings featuring prominent artists such as songwriter Brian Wilson, the lead singer for the Beach Boys.
“Our programs, I hope will be educational, as well as just amazing and fun and intimate and special and you’ll learn something new”, said Lynne Sheridan, public programs manager.
At the Grammy Museum, you can roam through the ghost trail of Bob Dylan’s lyric sheets, feel the ends of your fingers twitch as you gaze upon Grand Master Flashes set of turntables circa 1980, marvel Luciano Pavarotti’s over-stuffed tuxedo, lay fat tracks inside one of the recording modules, or rediscover why music isn’t so much expansive as it is infinite and innate as our need to create and understand.
The Grammy Museum is located on the corner of Olympic Blvd and Figueroa St in downtown Los Angeles. Its open to the public from 10 am to 6 pm at the cost to students of $11.95.