Watch this space for upcoming events and reports of recent activities.



12 NOVEMBER 2018 – MIRN’s next CONFERENCE and AGM- in Edinburgh

Outline Programme here

Presentation Abstracts and Biogs


MIRN and SHCG (Social History Curators’ Group) Announce a Joint Seminar

Musical Instruments Unwrapped: Telling Social Histories Through Musical Instruments

Date and Time: Monday, 12 November 2018, 08:30 – 16:45

MIRN AGM: 17:00 – 17:30

Venue: St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh, Niddry Street, Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1NQ

Keynote Speaker: Professor Gabriele Rossi Rognoni, Chair of Material Culture and Music, Curator, Royal College of Music Museum, London, UK



Musical instruments are complex cultural objects. Like many others which are taken out of everyday life to be shown in museums, they benefit from interpretation that offers audiences a variety of ways into understanding their diverse functions and meanings in societies.

In bringing together specialists from a variety of disciplines, including musical instruments and social history, this seminar seeks to broaden perspectives. It aims to help develop new ways of thinking about the presentation of musical instruments and how they can be active performers in a wide range of display contexts, whether or not they are able to be played.

Papers will address a variety of topics including:

  • Using musical instruments to research, interpret and display social history; using social history to research, interpret and display musical instruments.
  • Highlighting hidden stories to redefine and broaden context.
  • Connecting with diverse communities using related objects and collections.
  • Addressing the complex questions in determining the playability of musical instruments.
  • Factors to consider when caring for musical instruments, both playing and non-playing
  • The role of musical instruments and of sound in multi-disciplinary displays.
  • High tech vs. low tech. Using sound effectively, whether live or recorded.
  • Musical instruments and under-explored connections with social history and other fields.

THE CALL FOR PAPERS IS NOW CLOSED. Note: all selected presentations are to be shared with delegates.

Bookings are now closed. Please send any enquiries to



The Organ Workshop Study Day, sponsored jointly by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Horniman Museum and Gardens took place on 27 April 2018. Adriel Yap reports: (The original version of this article was published in the Institute of British Organ Building’s Newsletter No.90, June 2018.)

Some of the participants at the Organ Study Day in the Goetze & Gwynn Workshop.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens organised a study day focusing on an anonymous organ from the late 18th early 19th century which it purchased from the sale of Richard and Katrina Burnett’s collection of keyboard instruments from Finchcocks in 2016. The instrument is being restored so it can join next year the ‘At Home with Music’ display, which tells the story of domestic keyboard instruments.

The restoration of the organ is part of a larger 4-year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). While the Horniman’s present collection of displayed keyboards already include one playable instrument – a late 18th-century English harpsichord –  the restored organ and two other Finchcocks instruments will augment the number. An enhanced programme of weekly performances, a competition and master classes will accompany the additions to the display. The study day on 27 April was part of the project and funded by the HLF. About twenty people, including other keyboard specialists, attended.

Dominic Gwynn explaining technical aspects of the restoration.

The first part of the day was spent looking at the technical aspects of the restoration presented by Dominic Gwynn. The organ is typical of domestic instruments of the period but had few identifying marks. It may have been made by an experienced organ builder with other crafts called in to make the case and decorative front pipes (in wood).

As is often the case, restoring an instrument presents issues to the organ builder to resolve. A key issue is how far should the organ be modified from its present condition. For example, it was decided to use screws to replaced nails so that parts could be easily dismantled for repair in the future. It was also decided to refinish the case and replace the modern worn cloth with a silk backing that would have been similar in colour and texture to the original, behind the sham front pipes.

The non-original cloth behind the dummy pipes.
Re-leathering the pallets.

This would also help anchor the context in which the instrument was seen and used, that is in the home of the increasingly wealthy and culturally aware commercial classes of the day.

After a very enjoyable lunch, Mimi Waitzman, Deputy Keeper of Musical Instruments, spoke about the restoration from the perspective of the Horniman Museum.

Mimi Waitzman speaking at the Organ Study Day. Dominic Gwynn standing on the left.

The music gallery attracts more than 400,000 visitors each year, and many visits are organised by schools. The Museum sees its role as one of preserving important artefacts and to make them as accessible as possible through gallery curation, and documentation. But it also sees a role for itself in developing new art works and increasing public engagement with its collections. With increasing competition for funding, there is a need for closer collaboration between key players in the musical instrument museum sector.

Making an instrument available to play presents challenges to any museum. Playing an instrument without proper supervision and conservation support may lead to an accelerated deterioration through wear and tear, damaging rare or even unique primary evidence contained in the object. Yet it is also important that the main function of the instrument be conveyed and better understood.  But all of this must be balanced against the knowledge that instruments such as this organ, are a finite and irreplaceable resource.  So there is a clear responsibility for the Museum to ensure that a prudent balance is maintained between access, including use, and conservation.

What I enjoyed most about the study day was the range of disciplines represented in its participants. Being able to learn from non-organ builders is always useful and the discussions we had over lunch will certainly inform decisions I make when faced with similar issues. It certainly has given me a wider perspective of how we should undertake historically informed restorations of organs that come my way.

Adriel Yap, author of report seated at an organ.
  • An excellent Report on the MIRN conference, held on 12 October 2017, has been published in the current Galpin Society Newsletter, p.5.
  • Several MIRN members attended the one-day workshop on ‘Music & Material Culture‘, held at the University of Cambridge on Wednesday, 7 December. Mimi Waitzman (Chair, MIRN) writes:

The one-day conference in Cambridge, billed as a ‘workshop’, on Music and Material Culture brought together an array of disparate topics that attempted to give shape, substance and meaning to the very broad theme. We learned of many ways that material manifestations of music and music-making extend beyond musical scores and instruments to furniture, buildings, scientific endeavour and even philosophies of exhibiting music and musical materials in museums. The different relationships that societies construct between music and the other arts were also explored. All-in-all, a stimulating day with many mind-opening discussions and presentations.

Gabriele Rossi-Rognoni, Curator of Musical Instruments at the Royal College of Music, London, and MIRN member, giving a paper on ‘Defining “Old” vs. “New” Organologies’ at the workshop in Cambridge.
  • MIRN members Jenny Nex (Secretary) and Arnold Myers attended the Museums Association Conference in Glasgow on 7-9 November where they represented MIRN at  a stand dedicated to all Subject Specialist Networks (SSNs). Jenny writes:

Representatives of MIRN contributed to the presence of Subject Specialist Networks at the Museums Association Conference in Glasgow in November.  The trade fair area, which included representatives from a wide range of businesses and organisations which support museums, their staff and their users, was a busy space, particularly at break times.  Conference delegates were able to meet representatives from a number of the different networks and to find out more about us and what we offer.  It was important for MIRN to be visible here since many collections contain at least one musical instrument and most collections don’t have a musical instrument specialist.  It was also useful to meet representatives from other networks and to discuss ways which we could work across networks in the future.

Jenny Nex representing MIRN, the UK’s Subject Specialist Network for Musical Instruments, at the Museums Association Conference in Glasgow in November. MIRN leaflets can be seen in front of her on the table.