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The team at work

Royal College of Music Museum digitises remarkable collection of ancient Chinese instruments

Monday 18 May 2020

The Royal College of Music Museum has collaborated with the Committee of Chinese Musical Instrument Museums and Collections (CCMI) to make around 200 ancient musical instruments from the collection of the Hunan Museum in Changsha, China accessible online.

Working closely with colleagues in China, researchers from the Royal College of Music have digitised hundreds of fascinating items which are now available to view on the MINIM-UK platform. The collection includes instruments that are over 3,500 years old and items from the world-famous Mawangdui Tombs of the Han Dynasty, dating back to 163 BC.

The project, generously supported by the UK-RI Global Challenges Research Fund, is the first initiative in a strategic partnership between the Royal College of Music Museum and the CCMI aimed at facilitating international access to musical instruments in museums in China. Thousands of ancient instruments, many dating back several thousands of years, are preserved in Chinese museums but many are not currently accessible online to non-Chinese speaking audiences.

The Royal College of Music Museum is harnessing its MINIM-UK platform - created in 2017 in collaboration with other artistic institutions to give free access to the collection, thereby supporting research and knowledge exchange and facilitating future temporary exhibitions and joint initiatives. MINIM-UK currently plays host to over 20,000 musical instruments from more than 200 museums, providing invaluable remote access to some of the most important and fascinating collections in the UK and beyond.

Professor Richard Wistreich, Director of Research at the Royal College of Music, said: ‘The Royal College of Music is honoured and delighted to be part of this collaboration between two of the world’s most important musical instrument museum collections. I would like to acknowledge the generous support of the Chinese Association of Music Museums and UK-RI Global Challenges Research Fund for enabling this highly significant first step in what we hope will be a growing partnership for years to come.’

Dr. Qin Fang, President of the Committee of Chinese Musical Instrument Museums and Collections (CCMI), comments: ‘CCMI is honoured and glad to facilitate the international collaborations between Chinese and UK museums and institutions. As one of the most important aggregators of Chinese music collection and as the music and museum branch of Chinese Museum Associates, we hope we can strengthen the bridge between China and the rest of the world, expand our reach and increase collaboration with our partners and friends.’

The Royal College of Music is nearing completion of a £40million development project to transform its South Kensington campus, including building a new home for the Royal College of Music Museum. Featuring the most prized items from the RCM’s internationally significant collection of musical instruments and music-related art, the museum will give visitors a thrillingly interactive glimpse into the rich history of music and innovations of the industry today. While UK lockdown measures remain in place, you can explore highlights from the RCM collection online here.