Personal Memories of Presidents

From Stockholm via Amsterdam to Leningrad: Memories of Felix van Lamsweerde, president CIMCIM 1974-1977

Although I attended in 1959 – on behalf of Jaap Kunst – the first meeting in the Hague of what later became CIMCIM, but being an active member of ICOM and CIMCIM only from ca 1968 onwards, I was more or less surprised to be nominated and elected as president in Stockholm in June 1974. Like acquiring the position of Jaap Kunst at the Royal Tropical Institute in 1965, it was impossible to match the qualities of my famous predecessor, the legendary Madame (Geneviève Thibault) de Chambure.

Naturally my memories of her are very vivid. I will never forget collecting the material and archives of CIMCIM and the grand hospitality she gave to individual visitors and CIMCIM meetings alike in her castle-like house in Neuilly. The first edition of the International Directory of Musical Instrument Collections was mainly prepared by her and Jean Jenkins. She carried the manuscript – “the elephant” – with her everywhere, till her untimely death in Strasbourg in 1975, on her way to the CIMCIM meetings in Amsterdam. In co-operation with a new Dutch publisher the Directory finally appeared in 1977 with support of ICOM – after fifteen years of preparation.

Thanks to the Musikmuseet in Stockholm and many contributors, several issues of the newsletter appeared, developing itself from an IAMIC to a CIMCIM journal.

Although overshadowed by the decease of Madame de Chambure, the meeting in Amsterdam at the Royal Tropical Institute was a honour for the acting chairman. The themes were closely related to the activities of the Tropenmuseum and the Soeterijn theatre. Proposed and discussed were plans for the exhibition of “collections of musical instruments in new or newly restored buildings and their audio-visual presentation”. Stockholm and Amsterdam were at that time both preparing these new exhibitions, while the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires in Paris had just finished such a discipline. Live concerts of predominantly Asiatic music in the newly build intimate Soeterijn theatre supplemented the sessions with concerts showing the cross-cultural use of musical instruments.

Finally, it is not fair that only past presidents give their memories of CIMCIM: all the activities are the result of the joint efforts of the big family which CIMCIM was and still is. Therefore to conclude a vote of thanks to all friends (whose names should, but cannot be mentioned) – members of the board and others alike – who gave their time and energy to CIMCIM in those three years.

Reminiscences of Friedemann Hellwig, president CIMCIM 1977-1983

As a member of CIMCIM and ICOM since 1969 I recall many conferences and other events as well as many people.

One of the personalities most admired, yet at the same time provoking contradiction from the younger members because of her seemingly out-of-date style of leading CIMCIM was Madame de Chambure. One anecdote, and I do not doubt its authenticity, describes how Madame showed a Japanese visitor round the Paris Conservatoire collection. She fell on the stairs and continued the tour. It was only when the visitor had left that she called Hubert Bédard, then restorer at the Conservatoire: “Vite, vite, Hubert, call the ambulance, I have broken my foot”. Self-discipline was certainly one of her strengths.

Another member of the old generation was Emanuel Winternitz, then keeper of the musical instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York. He was very language-minded and a virtuoso certainly not only in his native language but also in English. During a meeting he listened to Jean Jenkins who commented in length on a paper that had just been read. She also brought in her own thoughts on the subject in such a manner that it prompted Winternitz to ask her: “Miss Jenkins, is this a question or an objection?”

One of the most successful CIMCIM events, at least in my recollection, was the visit to Oslo, Trondheim, Stockholm and Copenhagen in 1982, abbreviated to “The Scandinavian tour”. The participants enjoyed the journey through wonderful landscape, comfortably relaxing in trains. In Trondheim, at Peter-Andreas Kjeldsberg’s home museum, we received the most friendly reception culminating in an evening gathering in one of the charming old buildings of the Ringve Museum. Wine and other alcoholic drinks are exceedingly highly taxed in Norway, yet a strong brandy, called Line Aquavit because it had crossed the equator in a ship’s stomach, was offered in unbelievable quantities. Jan Voigt, then the museum’s director, found a thousand reasons to request the company to drink in honour of present or absent persons and this drinking contributed much to the participants’ feelings that CIMCIM formed a large family of friends. Indeed, CIMCIM has created friendship between many of its members across many borders (not only on this occasion), and this certainly is one of the positive aspects of this committee.

One thing I did not succeed in during my chairmanship was reducing the members’ desire to report on results of their organological research during the committee meetings. I have always taken the position that CIMCIM is a museological committee and that papers read during the meetings should take that into account. In my opinion, research on instruments is the matter of AMIS, the Galpin Society and other groups while there are a great number of questions relating to the museological problems in musical instrument collections that hardly receive the attention they deserve. There are other projects that were unsuccessful, amongst them the big and the small “fish”, the fiches that should provide a thesaurus of types of instruments and thus facilitate cataloguing. A number of members passed away over this project that kept going for at least two decades. I regret the failure of this project particularly in view of the computer age that calls for a more systematic approach to cataloguing.

Scott Odell of Washington DC, Cary Karp of Stockholm, Robert Barclay of Ottawa, and I formed the “gang of four”, we preferred to see ourselves as the “young turks”. For many years we were the only conservators in CIMCIM, forming a group often opposed to the more traditional views of restoration to playability. Contact with conservators from other fields of specialization led us four to the conviction that instruments do not form a special group of objects but rather are cultural property that should follow the generally accepted guidelines of preservation of all cultural heritage. The four were always open to technological questions and so it happened in the early eighties that the four raised their fingers upon the question of participation in a new working on the use of computers in organology. From behind I heard a female voice saying: “Oh no, again the conservators”. I have long wondered what was meant by this remark. I believe it showed the reluctance of many curators at that time to get acquainted with this complex tool while conservators have always had the need to use and even build machinery for their field of work. Anyway, CIMCIM has managed to keep curators and conservators in close cooperation and this is a rare achievement amongst ICOM international committees.

Summing up, I find CIMCIM has an ongoing task to fulfil. And it does it sometimes very well, at other times less effectively. Yet is always offers a good opportunity of meeting colleagues and friends and of exchanging professional and personal matters

Antwerp between London and The Hague
by Jeannine Lambrechts-Douillez, president of CIMCIM, 1983-1989

When I took over at the ICOM General Conference in London, CIMCIM was very familiar to me having been the youngest founding member in 1960 and having organized a meeting on the occasion of the Symposium on “Restoration problems around Antwerp harpsichords” in 1970. This meeting dealt with motion nr 3 adopted at the constitutive meeting in july 1960: that problems of conserving musical instruments are similar to those of conserving cultural property in general. I was in charge at the museum Vleeshuis in Antwerp of a small collection of musical instruments integrated in a general museum of archaeology, with no restorer but many visitors asking to “see” or rather “touch” the instruments (colleagues know what this means in a museum of musical instruments). The importance of the collection was based on the presence of Antwerp harpsichords and the care of these important historic documents went beyond my responsibility. CIMCIM proved to be an important forum where all these problems could be discussed amongst people having one goal for historic instruments: their preservation. In those days of making instruments playable again at whatever cost, it soon became clear that preservation and conservation were priorities for CIMCIM. The discussions among working groups were always very instructive in the methods to be applied for reaching their goal. Techniques for conservation have changed in all these years; main thing was to be kept up-to-date by the dialogue that CIMCIM made possible.

Theories are important but in museum’s every day life one is sometimes compelled to take immediate decisions that cannot be found in books. I was very happy that my report read in 1980 in Mexico city was amended and rephrased by a working group. Recommendations for Access of Musical instruments was published in ICOM News in French, English and Spanish; later on German, Italian and Japanese versions was added. It proved to be a good tool not only for the benefit of colleagues in musical instrument collections, but also to other colleagues in charge of delicate collections where the same approach was necessary. Thanks to my predecessor we could publish a Special Issue of the CIMCIM Newsletter in 1986 dedicated to what was called the Scandinavian Tour in 1982 “Musical Instrument exhibitions in Scandinavia”. This is another practical tool for everyone having to face setting up an exhibition of musical instruments.

My fondest memories were when we visited the Reichstag in Berlin in 1988 and the concert we had with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Other highlights in 1985 were the delicious meals in New York, the Big Apple with fantastic private collections situated sometimes in the middle of huge skyscrapers, and of course the visit to Washington where the Mayor proclaimed that particular day “the” day of music in honour of our visit.

To me CIMCIM has been very important for different reasons. The first one remains professional, as a curator having an important task and an urgent need to save our international heritage. Writing this history of CIMCIM made me recall the cordiality of the founding members whose biographies tell us what amazing people they were. The motions they adopted at the constitutive meeting are still up to date. I have been very impressed by the quality of professionals I met and I am grateful for all they taught me but finally I became aware, that wherever we live and whatever language we speak, we are citizens of one world and that friendship has no borders. In difficult moments in my private life CIMCIM gave me the courage to go on… and even when being retired from the museum it is still necessary to fight for the maintenance of musical instruments. They deserve the same treatment as paintings, sculpture and other collections because they belong to mankind its past and future.

 

Reminiscences of Sumi Gunji, president CIMCIM 1995-1998

As a member of CIMCIM from 1983 to c.2010, I valued participating in annual meetings, visiting museums, collections, remarkable cities, the opportunity to meet interesting people. I learned the long history and the policy of CiMCIM, and have deep respect for its founders and all members who kept the tradition and the policy of CIMCIM until now.

I recollect my first impressive visit to Musée instrumental du Conservatoire de musique in Brussels. It was unimaginable to see so many various instruments from different countries. From that visit, I understood an important topic for CIMCIM: the necessity of classification of musical instruments as established by Victor-Charles Mahillon. Classifying musical instruments in museums and collections is useful for visitors to understand characteristic of instruments around the world, and how they relate to one another.

Museums and collections that collect instruments from different countries have found classification a complicated topic in practice, among other challenges for instrument condition. Sometimes, unfortunately, I found instruments displayed with mistaken name or unfit description. The difference of humidity and temperature between the place of display and place of origin could damage the instrument cause of environmental change.

Knowledge exchange with some organization of ethnomusicology, for example the International Council for Traditional Music, could be helpful to deal with these challenges. My hope is that all instruments in every museums and collection can live in proper conditions, which could only improve their function and sound.

 

Memories of Eszter Fontana, president of CIMCIM 1998–2004

I was a CIMCIM member since 1972, a board member since 1992 and became President in 1998. 

Almost 20 years have passed since then. When I think back on my membership, and on my work in this international organization that is so important for our field, many memories surface.

At that time I was still living in Hungary, and for me personally, CIMCIM was enormously important. In that prehistoric era before the Internet, it meant connection to professional circles, participation in conferences, contacts and friendships. The CIMCIM conferences were the most important opportunity for my continuing professional education; through listening to presentations, visits to musical instrument collections, and discussions and through exchange of reprints. Participating in a conference meant an enormous financial burden for me, yet I associate this time with very positive memories.

These early experiences, and of course also my professional interests and the wonderful collaboration with Corinna Weinheimer (secretary), influenced my activity as president. We were a perfect team: we ruminated together and overcame all the pending tasks together. We also always received support from the board at that time. So I remember the six years as president as a harmonious and very interesting time.

We inherited a well-functioning organization. Some news things were added, for example the conscious sponsoring of trainees, and also the financial support of colleagues in the form of travel cost grants. Guidelines were developed for this in 2003.

network.icom.museum/cimcim/what-we-do/travel-grant-guidelines/ 

 

Meetings in these days took place in a variety of countries, and in most cases also in different cities. We were always willing to choose interesting or current subjects for presentations. Following a good tradition, visits to collections and an exchange with local colleagues were an important part of the program.

To enhance the attractiveness of the general conferences, several times we organized interesting and inspiring meetings with other ICOM International Committees.

1999: June 9–16, France. Theme: “Musical Instruments or Music and What is the role of a museum in a changing society?” Annual Conference in Paris and Montluçon. (visits to: Musée de la Musique; Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers; Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires; Musée de l’Homme; Versailles; Musée de Montluçon)

2000: September 14–21, Germany, Czech Republic. Theme: “Musical Instrument Collections and musical instrument making – interaction in history and in the future”. Annual Conference in Leipzig and Markneukirchen (Visits to the collections of Leipzig, Markneukirchen, Zwota, Klingenthal, Kraslice, Luby, Prague).

2001: July 2–7, Spain. ICOM General Conference; joint CIMCIM session with CIPEG and ICMA. Theme: “Musical Instruments on Display: Mounting, Security, Labelling”, (Visits to: Rupit: Fundacíon La Fontana; Barcelona: Museu de la Música; Ávila, town museum; Urueña (county of Valladolid): Fundación Joaquín Díaz; Madrid: musical instrument collection at the Royal Palace; Casa Cerralbo).

2002: September 8 –16, Russia Theme: “Musical Instruments : Do They Have to Sound?” Annual conference in St. Petersburg, Novgorod and Moscow. (Visits to: Sheremetev Palace, Visit to the branches of St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music; Kunstkamera Museum; Mekhnetsov Studio; harp factory; State Hermitage; Russian Ethnographical Museum; Kremlin Centre of the Archaeological Musical Instruments; Pavlovsk Museum) 

2003: September 3–9, UK (Annual Conference, Oxford; London; Edinburgh) Joint Conference with the Galpin Society and the American Musical Instrument Society. (Visits to 15 of the most important museums with musical instrument displays in Britain. London: Royal College of Music, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Royal Academy of Music with the Gate/ York Collection, and the Horniman Museum and Gardens Museum; Finchcocks Collection: Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, Pitt Rivers Balfour Galleries, Ashmolean Museum, Bate Collection, Jeremy Montagu collection etc.).

2004: Seoul, 3– 8. October, Korea, Seoul Theme: “To Exhibit Intangible Heritage”. (ICOM General Conference; Joint CIMCIM session with SIBMAS and ICOFOM. Visits to: National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, National Theater of Korea; Seoul Arts Center; Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul.)

There were always enough invitations, but several times we had serious difficulties for various reasons. Annual meetings in Burkina Faso (for 2000), Seattle (2003) and Mexico (2005) were being planned for a long time. All our efforts were in vain; the meetings had to be canceled in these cases mentioned and replacements had to be found quickly. Organizing the meeting in St. Petersburg also became exceedingly difficult. We were finally able to locate a colleague on site who was able to give us the organizational support needed. These experiences showed that the guidelines complied in 2004 could be helpful. (An Invitation to an annual meeting– Guidelines for hosting institutions.)

It was a very labor-intensive but wonderful time. I would like to express my gratitude for all my colleagues, in particular Carmelle Bégin, Ken Moore, Arnold Myers, Patrice Verrier and Corinna Weinheimer. 

Updated on Feb. 2018