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Sounds Good to Me exhibit logo

Music exhibit covers Minnesota's music from home parlor to nightclub

Music blends sound, artistry, culture, emotion and social experience.

Sounds Good to Me: Music In Minnesota, a kaleidoscopic exhibit at the Minnesota History Center, gives visitors a taste of the rich variety of musical events and activities in the state's history – and of the ways in music permeates the lives of Minnesotans.

Covering 6,200 square feet of floor space, Sounds Good to Me is one of the most ambitious exhibits ever produced at the History Center. It opened in October 2000.

The exhibit team built the exhibit around a streetscape featuring a series of settings where music is produced and enjoyed – a home parlor, a ballroom, a high school bandroom, a concert hall, a deejay booth, a tent and an instrument store. Visitors can see and hear the stories of Minnesotans whose lives have been affected by music, and as a result, they may better understand the effect of music on their own lives.

In the home parlor section of Sounds Good to Me, visitors can learn about amateur musicians. A St. Paul girl, Florence Blood, is shown seated at her piano in 1912.

Girl at piano "That section of the exhibit began to come together when I looked at Florence's photo and saw the pride in her eyes," Curator Benjamin Filene says. For the parlor setting, curators obtained copies of sheet music displayed on Florence Blood's instrument, and a player piano performs one of those songs, "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland." Using magnetic poetry pieces and other interactive devices, visitors can rewrite the "Dreamland" lyrics and explore other aspects of amateur musicianship.

Playing the jukebox As the Florence Blood example shows, Sounds Good to Me is not focused on the lives of Minnesota's musical superstars. "Our approach has been to show the role music has played in the lives of ordinary Minnesotans, as opposed to a Hall of Fame format or a textbook-like march through time," Filene says. 'We're not claiming encyclopedic coverage of this vast topic, but instead we're doing what we do best – telling stories that visitors can use to make connections between the past and their own lives, their own relationship to music."

Prom ballroom poster

Filene says a highlight of the exhibit is a section dealing with the club scene. "This section is about the importance of music in people's social lives and how it is a part of dating, fashion and going out on the town."

The elaborate setting includes jukeboxes, rare film footage of people dancing and an object theater about St. Paul's Prom Ballroom.

"We interviewed people who worked at the Prom, met there and married, and made it a center of their lives," Filene says.

The nightclub section of Sounds Good to Me includes oversized magnetic dolls that visitors can dress in the styles of 1920s, 1950s and 1970s club wear.

The exhibit's nightclub stage provides a venue for a series of musicians to perform during the five-year run of Sounds Good to Me. The History Center's "Guest in the Gallery" program Mixing music in the exhibit will feature several performers on the nightclub stage during the opening weeks, including Bobby E. and Clint Hoover, Walker West's Youth Jazz band, Minnesota Opera singers, Douglas Ewart, Carol Pearce Bjorlie, Donna Peña and many others.

Other public programs planned in connection with Sounds Good to Me: Music in Minnesota include four festivals throughout the year and a Musical U program offered in partnership with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Visitors may feel transported by what they experience in Studio 4U, a part of the exhibit telling the story of the state's recording industry. Visitors record store sign can remix and sing along with the 1980 disco hit "Funkytown" produced by Minnesotan Steven Greenberg.

For many visitors, Sounds Good to Me may shred the stereotype of Minnesota's cultural homogeneity.

"I was struck by the incredible diversity of musical experience in Minnesota," Filene says, "and by how central music is to all the cultures that are here. At the same time, it was exciting to find the common elements that run across cultures."

Lead support for Sounds Good to Me: Music in Minnesota is provided by the Mardag Foundation.

Lead education support is provided by the Best Buy Children's Foundation.

Major support is provided by the Katherine B. Andersen Fund of The Saint Paul Foundation, the F.R. Bigelow Foundation, Conley and Marney Brooks, John and Ruth Huss, and The George W. Wells Jr. and Mary Cobb Wells Exhibition Fund.

Sponsorship support is provided by 89.3 WCAL, the Elmer L. & Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation, the Athwin Foundation, Barbara and Judson Bemis Sr., the Alice M. O'Brien Foundation, and The Thomas G. Mairs Family in Memory of Marjorie P. Mairs.

Additional support is provided by City of Saint Paul Cultural Star Program, The Laura Jane Musser Fund, Timothy and Gayle Ober, and David and Mary Ann Barrows Wark.

Promotional support comes from KS95 and Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

[Minneapolis Rock and Roll e-cards]
[More on Sounds Good to Me]
[Night at the ballroom]
[Mix your own "Funkytown"]
[Encounter some famous Minnesota musicians]
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