Vermillion, South Dakota: The National Music Museum

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Vermillion, South Dakota: The National Music Museum, driving diva, gerry davis, the three tomatoes

You know there is a state call South Dakota. You know it is out West and aside from a few of their special claims to fame, you truthfully know little about this wonderful state. When I realized I would be driving across this big state, I immediately called the Chamber of Commerce and the Tourist Bureaus. In ROMANCING THE ROADS Vol. 2, I had written about Wall, Mitchell, Rapid City, Deadwood, South Dakota. These are definitely places I recommend you visit, but what I am sharing with you now is a big OH MY! It was emphatically suggested that I visit Vermillion, SD. I had never heard of it and quickly looked it up. It is where The University of South Dakota is located. It was about 30-45 minutes from Sioux Falls [where I was spending a couple of days] and I was told it was just a short bucolic drive. So far so good. It was arranged that I would be met by Jacquie Fuks, Director South Dakota Tourism, and that I would not be disappointed with Vermillion. Before I elaborate, I can say that Vermillion is not on the top of travel writers or travel agents agendas or on bucket lists, but it should be. FOR SURE!

The relatively short drive to Vermillion indeed was a beautiful bucolic drive.
I meet Jacquie F. at the designated exit/ gas station. I followed her into town. We park. The museum was to be not a quick happening so we decided to get some nourishment first. FYI: We ate at the Café Brule, which is a delightful little place with delicious food.

Founded in 1973 on the University of South Dakota campus, I soon was walking into The National Music Museum. [414 E. Clark Street. 605-677-5306] Whether you know what a G-clef is or only sing off key, you must visit this impressive music museum. It is truly and absolutely awesome. There are about 15,000 instruments from all cultures- American, European, non-Western, etc. Everything is so well displayed, that you don’t really realize how much is being presented to you. You will learn a tremendous amount even if you are not musical savvy.


What you will see is so fantastic and extraordinary. A few samplings. The museum is the only place in the world one can find two 18th century pianos with the type of key action conceived by Bartolomeo Cristofori, the inventor of the piano. Yes, there are the ancient and historic instruments and too, there are those Instruments played by the best known musicians. Everything is displayed in a most attractive manner. There are two [!] Stradivari, and an impressive collection of woodwind, brass and string instruments by 17th and 18th century craftsmen. The Alan G. Bates collection of over 2,000 harmonicas is extraordinary. I am sure most readers here have tried to play this little instrument. Not so easy.

The collection of harpsichords is extensive. The museum now has the oldest harpsichord in the world – Naples circa 1500. The early harpsichords are works of art. Elaborate in décor they indeed were placed in prominence in the home. Click on Keyboard Instruments at the Music Museum to see and hear various harpsichords.
Of course there are the wind, percussion, string instruments and more– each of many varieties and from many cultures. Some are strange, but definitely fascinating. See the rectangular slit drum for starters and there are more and more. It is interesting to see how creative aborigines and others were regardless of where they lived or what they used to make their musical instruments. They all created their own music. No question, music is within all of us – some developed, some dormant, some tried, some ignored, but regardless, there is music within all of us.

You will learn a lot and be a bit more interesting – even just to yourself. I was fascinated to learn about a Pochette [French] Kits [England]. Look it up at the museum site.

People lived without radios, TV, computers, telephones and such and did creatively well. Yes, all just mentioned are examples of brilliant creativity but when you think and see what is under the music category from so many different types of civilization you will realize creativity abounds and music creativity has no bounds. There is no question as you view these magnificent instruments, that they are works of art. There are also the instruments that were played by those that subsequently influenced our lives and even our emotions. Music definitely lives forever and possibly has magical effects.

There is not a superlative, superlative enough, to describe the National Music Museum. Hopefully, you will visit the museum. If not in person, visit it electronically- the Virtual Tour is so interesting, and be sure to share with children.

PS: If you know anyone applying to colleges, think of University of South Dakota. Many prominent people have graduated from USD.


  • Gerry Davis

    Gerry Hempel Davis worked for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, was the youngest female in the control room of the Ed Sullivan Show, and was for several years a contributing lifestyle correspondent for The Today Show. She is the author of the authorized history of The Today Show as well as The Moving Experience. In recent years Gerry Davis has logged over 100,000 miles on America's highways and byways, stumbling upon sites that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. She’s written three books on her road trips including ROMANCING THE ROADS: A DRIVING DIVA’S FIRST HAND GUIDE: Vol I (East of the Mississippi) and Vol II (West of the Mississippi).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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