Tucked away on the edge of Panfilov Park in an attractive wooden cottage that has somehow survived the upheavals of the 20th century, the Musical Instruments Museum tells the story of the music of the steppe.
The exhibit is interesting, but not fascinating. Nonetheless, if you have 30 minutes to spare, there is no harm in stepping inside to discover the sound of nomadic culture.
Since Kazakhstan’s history was for the longest time, first and foremost an oral history, accompanied by music from the akyn (bard) or zhyrau (historian), learning about the music of Kazakhstan sort of equals learning about the history of Kazakhstan.
An atmospheric missed chance
The instruments on display are well-lit and have descriptions in English. The museum bathes in atmospheric steppe music. The craftwork on some of the instruments is beautiful.
Still, it could be better. What you really want, of course, is to point your phone at an instrument and hear its sound. An explanation on the role of the akyn (minstrel) and zhyrau (bard) in Kazakh society is also sorely lacking.
This bit of criticsm aside, the Musical Instruments Museum is well worth a visit to transport you from the modern buzz of the metropolis to the traditions of the aul (tribal nomadic settlement), aka the “real” Kazakhstan.
The first room starts with archaeological finds of ancient flutes, and a petroglyph and ancient musical balbal testifying to the roots of the musical tradition in the steppe.
The next 4 rooms are dedicated to the wide variety of Kazakh musical instruments. As the favoured instrument of the akyn, the dombra and the kobuz both get a room to themselves with some extraordinary examples of well-crafted instruments.
Don’t forget to cross over into the 2 rooms on the other side of the museum that dive into the musical instruments of the rest of the Soviet Union.