I loved museums when I was a boy, and I still do. The great ones in New York City, especially the Natural History Museum, were places of wonder to me.
Some shows last week along the southern Atlantic coastline led me to the Smithsonian, where I spent hours wondering at this flute, discovered in a cave in Germany just ten years ago.
It’s about 35,000 years old, which makes it one of the world’s oldest manufactured musical instruments. Two pieces of carved and hollowed-out mammoth ivory, joined together and sealed. The flute had at least three finger holes and played a five-note scale.
The five-note scale is found, in different forms, in most of the world’s music, including Gospel, Folk, Jazz, American Blues and Rock. Which got me thinking:
We’ve had the ability to play any melody in popular music for tens of thousands of years. Who’s to say some of these tunes that are kicking around the pop charts haven’t been around for 30, 40, or 50 thousand years?
I know it’s far-fetched but there’s only a handful of notes and there have been human beings for millennia playing around with all the same notes, and the vast majority of music has been passed down anyway.
I suppose this is why we have the Museum: It’s a place to find remnants of every interesting or valuable thing we have ever touched alongside thousands of labels describing what’s gone, to help us make sense of the things that are left and begin anew from what we had discovered from the old.
I’m reminded how in my own real-life museum I have collected hundreds of artifacts, although they are stored as haphazardly as pencils and lyrics stuffed in cabinets, analog tapes and guitar strings tucked in drawers.
There is no order to them; they are curated in a chaos of hurt and joy. Endless artifacts of memory pressing against my heart, the songwriter’s gallery.