Hearing Music in Siouxland again, National Music Museum, Vermillion, SD

15 Feb
Acoustic musician Jake Blount performs in the newly opened auditorium of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vemillion, Friday, February 4, 2022 in Vermillion, SD. Blount is playing a Henry Dobson banjo, which is part of the museum’s collection, which was made sometime between 1853 and 1867 in New York state. Blount specializes in the music of black and indigenous communities of the southeastern United States. The music museum closed in 2019 for expansion and renovations and recently opened the performance auditorium. The renovation of the music museum which houses the permanent collection of historical instruments may not open again until sometime in 2023 or 2024. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I recently visited a museum in which I haven’t ventured into for almost 3.5 years in Siouxland, which closed for renovations and expansion. The addition has been completed with a new performance auditorium but the museum housing the collection of instruments at the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, SD, may not open until 2023 or possibly 2024.

For someone who has never stepped foot inside the historical museum they may be shocked to find such a diversity of musical instruments that have been collected and donated to this facility from ancient to more modern pieces of instrumental music. And the fun part of the museum’s mission seems to be the opportunity to sometimes hear some of the instruments being used in performances by musicians.

That occurred recently when acoustic musician Jake Blount of Rhode Island performed and gave a short oral history of Black and Indigenous groups who used the banjo and fiddle as means of expression long, long before blue grass or old timey country music was given a thought.

National Music Museum Dwight Vaught introduces acoustic musician Jake Blount performs in the newly opened auditorium of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vemillion, Friday, February 4, 2022 in Vermillion, SD. Blount specializes in the music of black and indigenous communities of the southeastern United States. The music museum closed in 2019 and the recently opened performance auditorium has been under construction for the past two years, while the renovation of the music museum which houses the permanent collection of historical instruments may not open until sometime in 2023 or 2024. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Acoustic musician Jake Blount performs in the newly opened auditorium of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vemillion, Friday, February 4, 2022 in Vermillion, SD. Blount is playing a Henry Dobson banjo was that was made sometime between 1853 and 1867 in New York state. Blount specializes in the music of black and indigenous communities of the southeastern United States. The music museum closed in 2019 and the recently opened performance auditorium has been under construction for the past two years, while the renovation of the music museum which houses the permanent collection of historical instruments may not again open until sometime in 2023 or 2024. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Blount talked about the history of the banjo and how it was created by slaves and its long journey into the mainstream music scene and again how black musicians have once again begun playing it after attempts by white people to disparage the idea of blacks and the their early music by parody of the blackface musicians and entertainers who traveled the country and the world giving a very unflattering portrayal of such “low down and dirty music” that he explained made many black musicians ashamed and embarrassed to play this music for decades. He cited an academic piece by a historian whose name I did catch during the performance but apparently goes into detail about the journey of slaves who escaped to freedom and used their talent journey to a better life and location but who also created lasting music along the way.

I found a piece doing an online search and am not certain if it is the same historian, Laurent Dubois, who writes “a narrative of how this instrument was created by enslaved Africans in the midst of bondage in the Caribbean and Americas. He documents its journey from 17th- and 18th-century plantations to 19th-century minstrel shows to the bluegrass of Appalachia to the folk revival of the mid-20th century. In the process, Dubois documents how the banjo came to symbolize community, slavery, resistance, and ultimately America itself. A historian of the Caribbean and a banjo player himself, Dubois relied on the work of academic historians as well as insights from musicians, collectors, and banjo makers to tell this story.”

Audience members listen to acoustic musician Jake Blount performing in the newly opened auditorium of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vemillion, Friday, February 4, 2022 in Vermillion, SD. Blount specializes in the music of black and indigenous communities of the southeastern United States. The music museum closed in 2019 and the recently opened performance auditorium has been under construction for the past two years, while the renovation of the music museum which houses the permanent collection of historical instruments may not open until sometime in 2023 or 2024. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

An audience member takes a photo of acoustic musician Jake Blount performing in the newly opened auditorium of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vemillion, Friday, February 4, 2022 in Vermillion, SD. Blount specializes in the music of black and indigenous communities of the southeastern United States. The music museum closed in 2019 and the recently opened performance auditorium has been under construction for the past two years, while the renovation of the music museum which houses the permanent collection of historical instruments may not open until sometime in 2023 or 2024. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Audience members enjoy acoustic musician Jake Blount performing in the newly opened auditorium of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vemillion, Friday, February 4, 2022 in Vermillion, SD. Blount specializes in the music of black and indigenous communities of the southeastern United States. The music museum closed in 2019 and the recently opened performance auditorium has been under construction for the past two years, while the renovation of the music museum which houses the permanent collection of historical instruments may not open until sometime in 2023 or 2024. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The new facility in which Blount performed is more of a theatre setting than the previous performance space in the museum, with more seating available, while still retaining its small and intimate space. Performances will again draw the targeted audience the museum had in the past, depending on the time of day and day of performance. And of course over time some of the performances and performers change especially those associated with the university.

I always enjoy my visits and once again look forward to the musical instrument collection being available to view and admire. It is such a different experience that seeing something like this online. And someday it will happen.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

National Music Museum Dwight Vaught introduces acoustic musician Jake Blount performs in the newly opened auditorium of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vemillion, Friday, February 4, 2022 in Vermillion, SD. Blount specializes in the music of black and indigenous communities of the southeastern United States. The music museum closed in 2019 and the recently opened performance auditorium has been under construction for the past two years, while the renovation of the music museum which houses the permanent collection of historical instruments may not open until sometime in 2023 or 2024. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Audience members listen to acoustic musician Jake Blount performing in the newly opened auditorium of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vemillion, Friday, February 4, 2022 in Vermillion, SD. Blount specializes in the music of black and indigenous communities of the southeastern United States. The music museum closed in 2019 and the recently opened performance auditorium has been under construction for the past two years, while the renovation of the music museum which houses the permanent collection of historical instruments may not open until sometime in 2023 or 2024. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Audience members listen to acoustic musician Jake Blount performing in the newly opened auditorium of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vemillion, Friday, February 4, 2022 in Vermillion, SD. Blount specializes in the music of black and indigenous communities of the southeastern United States. The music museum closed in 2019 and the recently opened performance auditorium has been under construction for the past two years, while the renovation of the music museum which houses the permanent collection of historical instruments may not open until sometime in 2023 or 2024. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vemillion, Friday, February 4, 2022 in Vermillion, SD, recently began hosting noon concerts again. The music museum closed in 2019 and the recently opened performance auditorium has been under construction for the past two years, while the renovation of the music museum which houses the permanent collection of historical instruments may not open until sometime in 2023 or 2024. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: