Over a period of fifty years, Gunnar Schonbeck assembled a collection of hundreds of instruments, handmade from a diverse and unexpected range of materials. His unmistakable works include a 9-ft banjo, 8-ft tall marimba, drums made from aircraft fuselages, welded steel harps and countless steel drums, zithers, pan pipes, tubular chimes, and triangular cellos. His practice drew on a core philosophy: anyone can be a musician, and music can be made from the most ordinary of objects.
In 2011, MASS MoCA worked with Bennington College, where Schonbeck taught from 1947-2008, to move Schonbeck’s surviving instruments from the college to the museum. Over the last five years, visiting musicians to MASS MoCA, including Bang on a Can’s Mark Stewart and Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, have drawn on Schonbeck’s instruments in their performances and projects. With the restoration and renovation of B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building, MASS MoCA brings Schonbeck’s distinct approach to music-making to a wide audience, encouraging visitors and artists to play and experiment. A gallery devoted to the musicologist feels like a high school music room — outfitted with a selection of Schonbeck’s instruments available to visiting artists, MASS MoCA visitors, and local school groups.