The Sigal Music Museum

By | Monday, July 20, 2020 Leave a Comment

My father had an extraordinary avocation; he collected and restored antique musical instruments. Over roughly 50 years of collecting, he amassed an astonishing number of pieces, a remarkable expertise, and worldwide recognition as an authority on early instruments and music.

His collecting began with keyboards, starting with a broken pedal organ that his father got somewhere and gave to him with the instruction, “if you can fix it, you can have it.” It turns out that he could fix it, and so began this lifelong interest.

Eventually his collection drove us out of my childhood home and into a much larger house with what seemed like plenty of room. But as the space increased, so did his appetite. It took a couple of decades, but he managed to fill the house. There were keyboard instruments in bedrooms, in the dining room, in his study, in the family room, in the “music room”, in the front hall, stacked coffin-like in the basement, and eventually unceremoniously filling the back recesses of the warehouse at his factory.

It was around this time that he began collecting blessedly smaller woodwind instruments. Yet over the ensuing years, it was beginning to become hard to find places to put even one more piccolo, with all manner of antique woodwinds not only in display cabinets and specially made drawers, but also stacked on top of the ubiquitous pianos.

Eventually, at the request of many in the early music world, he produced a beautiful catalog:
One thing he didn’t do was to make any real plan for what he wanted to have happen to the collection after his death. He had left letters, unsigned wills, and varying codicils to his one official will. He also told me at the hospital, a few days before he died, what he would like to have happen to all these instruments. After he passed and I read through his papers, I found none of these documents, formal or informal, agreed with each other, nor did they agree with his verbal instructions to me. But there was one thread that remained constant; if possible, he would like the collection to stay together, and to be made available to the public for education, appreciation, and research.

It turns out that giving away hundreds of antique instruments is not as easy as it sounds. Keyboards in particular take up a lot of space – something of which the family was painfully aware. Moreover, many of the instruments were made of wood, with bits of leather and other temperamental materials thrown in. These ancient ingredients require a lot of care and feeding to make sure they don’t degrade. As if that weren’t enough, many of them contain ivory (for example, the keys of the pianos). Though it was 100% clear that the animals had died hundreds of years in the past, the current regulations from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) make any transportation or sale of ivory of any vintage difficult, if not impossible. If that wasn't enough, some of the instruments contained bone, or other material that looks like ivory, and thus would require DNA testing to prove that it is not ivory before being transported in or out of the country.

I won’t bore you with the details of the search for a home for the collection, except to say that we spent months talking to representatives of various museums and universities, had them come and visit the collection, and listened to their proposals. The family had endless conversations, wrung our hands, and bit our nails. I went so far as to research the elevations and distance inland for the various institutions in consideration of how climate change and rising sea levels might impact the housing of the collection into the unknowable future.

After months of conversations and negotiations, we chose to give the collection as a whole to The Carolina Music Museum, in Greenville, South Carolina, along with a gift to help with the care and maintenance of this trove of material. In recognition of this, and my father’s contributions to the world of musical instrument preservation, the museum changed its name to the Sigal Music Museum.

The name was officially changed in mid-2019. However, due to the installation and removal of existing exhibits, the effort in moving the collection from Boston to Greenville, COVID-19, and other things, the name change wasn’t publicized until now. The new signage is up on the building, labeling is changed, t-shirts are printed, and the new website is ready… and it looks wonderful.

The Sigal Music Museum website is beautiful (and I'm not just sayin' that.) Check it out at Plans for the "Sensational Sigal" exhibit are going full speed ahead. None of us can wait until my father’s collection is unveiled to the world in its new home - which, pandemic willing, will occur later this year.

Please do check out the web site, and if you are in the Greenville area, go to the museum itself. Online you will find a terrific series of videos that have been done by the curators, showing off the several collections that are in the museum’s charge. These can be found on, YouTube, and Instagram.

My whole family is exceedingly proud of the collection and the work done by the Sigal Music Museum to preserve and display it. We are thrilled that our hand wringing and brow furrowing decision making process paid off in the selection of a most excellent new home for my father’s legacy. I'm sure he would be pleased.

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