WILLIAMSBURG — A new exhibit, “Making Music in Early America,” is slated to open on Aug. 20 at the Mark M. and Rosemary W. Leckie Gallery at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum — one of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.
As told through more than 60 instruments and their accessories, the social history and material culture of early American music will be revealed. This is the first exhibition to show the full scope of Colonial Williamsburg’s musical instruments collection, including some pieces that were recently acquired. It is scheduled to remain on view through December 2025.
Exhibits will be organized in five sections featuring music in the home, in religion, in education, in public performance, and in the military. “Making Music in Early America” will include harps, organs, violins, and other string instruments, fifes, flutes, a bassoon, a grand harmonica, drums, horns, and more. While the instruments are fascinating in and of themselves, the musicians who played them and their roles in society take center stage in this exhibition.
“Colonial Williamsburg has been collecting early musical instruments for more than 90 years, but we have never before had the opportunity to show the full range of the collection,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the Foundation’s Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator and vice president for museums, preservation and historic resources. “Supported by examples of original sheet music and paintings of early Americans playing their instruments, this exhibition will place these remarkable objects in their rich, historic context.”
Among the many highlights of Making Music in Early America is a barrel organ, or hand-organ, made by Longman, Clementi & Co. in London, England, ca. 1789-1801. One of the earliest hunting horns known in American collections is another featured object in the exhibition. Revolutionary War military instruments are especially rare, and a brass “Hessian” drum, from the Frebershausen area in the Hesse-Kassel region of what is now Germany, ca. 1770-1785, is another featured object to be on view in “Making Music in Early America.”
Also included in the exhibition will be ways for visitors to hear the sounds of four of the instruments (banjo, harpsichord, organized piano, and musical glasses) as well as an opportunity to see a musician play an organized piano (the period term indicating the addition of several organs stops playable from the same keyboard). Additionally, guests will be able to use an interactive touch screen to view an extraordinary music book in the Colonial Williamsburg collection that was owned by Peter Pelham (1721-1805), an English-born American organist, harpsichordist, teacher, and composer. Born in London, Pelham and his family immigrated to Boston in 1730.
The exhibit will open on Aug. 20 in the Mark M. and Rosemary W. Leckie Gallery at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. Additional information on the art museums of Colonial Williamsburg, such as ticket pricing, can be found on its website.