The interactive museum celebrates a decade of percussion education.
Nestled in the heart of downtown Indianapolis is the Rhythm! Discovery Center, a gem of the drum and percussion world. Founded by the Percussive Arts Society in 2009 and now celebrating its tenth year, the RDC is said to be the world’s only interactive drum and percussion museum. The organization says its mission is to “offer an incomparable experience in exploring the universality of rhythm and percussion, and its role in shaping communication, music, art, performance, and society.”
The museum’s exhibits and programs change periodically, so there’s always something exciting and new. Some of the RDC’s more intriguing 2019 exhibits include Time Tunnel, which demonstrates how cultures have made rhythm an integral part of their lives throughout history. Evolving Sounds explains how various percussion instruments are designed and built and how orchestral percussion has evolved over time, and allows visitors to be hands-on with those instruments at interactive stations. One-of-a-kind percussion instruments are also on display, including the Celestaphone, a vibraphone made from meteorite ore. It’s Rudimentary, an exploration of PAS drum rudiments, teaches about the basics of drumming and the creation of the PAS International Drum Rudiments. Practice pads are provided to try out each rudiment.
The exhibit Drums and Drummers highlights famous players and their kits. On display in 2019 were kits from Ginger Baker, Neil Peart, Kenny Aronoff , Chris Johnson, and Daru Jones. New kits will rotate in each year. A companion display showcases kits from PAS’s permanent collection that were played by Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, and Louie Bellson.
The Rhythm Center maintains a schedule of special events for visitors, such as performances from local and national musical groups and community drum circles, so it’s recommended to periodically check their schedule. In addition, there are guided tours that can be arranged, including a “behind the glass” tour of the PAS collection storage space, where hundreds of rare and unique percussion instruments are housed, many of which are not available for public viewing.
The conception of the Rhythm! Discovery Center has been a forty-plus- year journey, first introduced as an idea by the PAS Museum Committee in 1971. Ten years later, PAS received its first significant donation, a drumkit once owned by the renowned theater, television, and Minneapolis Symphony drummer Roy C. Knapp. Collecting continued, and in 1992 the PAS Museum was created as part of the organization’s newly established headquarters in Lawton, Oklahoma. As PAS grew, its headquarters were expanded twice to increase exhibit and storage space for the growing historical instrument collection.
In 2007, PAS moved its international headquarters to Indianapolis, Indiana. The relocation allowed their headquarters, museum, and annual convention, PASIC, to all be in close proximity. The museum collection was placed in storage while a new museum was constructed. The goal was to have construction completed and exhibits ready for the first PASIC show in Indianapolis in 2009.
In November of 2009, the enhanced PAS museum opened under the Rhythm! Discovery Center moniker. Michael Kenyon, PAS’s executive director between 2001 and 2012, recalls that first day. “It was very hectic,” he tells MD. “We were literally putting up signs, preparing exhibit labels, and putting together the displays until about 3 A.M. We had a grand opening reception, and instead of a ribbon cutting, we had six sets of cymbals crashed by VIPs. Our first exhibits were Journey of a Rhythm: Clave; a display from Clair Omar Musser, who was a marimba virtuoso, conductor, teacher, and designer of keyboard percussion instruments; and Percussion in Film.”
In 2016, Joshua Simonds was appointed as the executive director of PAS. Simonds says that the location in Indianapolis was ideal, as “it not only allowed us space for our collection and to offer other educational activities, but also become a part of the community. This has worked out well, as we now have nearly 24,000 visitors a year coming through the museum.”
The RDC now holds over 2,000 percussion instruments, in addition to thousands of documents, scores, recordings, and photos. These artifacts and archives are used in exhibits at RDC and by PAS members for research. In recognition of this achievement, PAS has recently renewed their lease in Indianapolis for ten more years.
Simonds sums up the organization’s success. “RDC is an interactive drum and percussion museum for all ages,” he says. “There’s the opportunity to learn and to play. Some people say, ‘I don’t have any rhythm.’ I believe that rhythm is inherent in all of us. We all have a heartbeat. This museum is all about self expression and having the opportunity to connect with that rhythm. It’s an open, friendly environment where no one is judging. You’re just enjoying the experience.”
For more information, visit rhythmdiscoverycenter.org.