Collection and exhibitions

The UNESCO Chair on Transcultural Music Studies (TMS) regularly organises exhibitions as part of events, teaching and research projects.

Musical instruments from four continents

Since the 1980s, Prof. Dr. Tiago de Oliveira Pinto has been building up a teaching collection of musical instruments. The instruments are souvenirs from research trips or gifts from international scientists. Some are also made by instrument makers or students themselves at the chair, as part of projects and often based on models. The collection comprises around one hundred instruments from Africa, Asia, South America and Europe.

Various musical instruments such as the Litungu (Kenya), the mouth bow Xizambi (Mozambique) or the Rubab (Afghanistan) are on permanent display in the lecture hall of the university centre at the Horn in Weimar. Each instrument has a special connection to the chair and its own history.

Musical instruments as living heritage

Musical instruments are among the objects that best represent the materiality of music, which at the same time are necessary for the production of sound and therefore are carriers of the living intangible heritage. It is particularly significant that musical instruments are always among the objects on the representative list of intangible cultural heritage. The important thing in this recognition of the instrument as intangible culture is the knowledge of its construction and use, its techniques and its art.

Collection "Transcultural Music Studies"

Luka Mukhavele, musicologist and instrument maker, examines the raft zither from Nigeria | Photo: TMS

Donation of raft zither

The raft zither from Nigeria is a stringed instrument made of reeds. It belongs to the rare "Idiochord" instruments, which means that the strings of the instrument are made of the same material as its soundbox.

Several reeds are joined together at the top and bottom with plant fibres (leaf strips with strings of reed stems). The strings are cut from the upper part of the tubes and lifted by two reed bridges attached at the top and bottom. Small stones inside the raft zither sound when played and thus rank the stringed instrument among the idiophones ("self-sounders") at the same time, because it can be used as a rattle.

The raft zither was donated by Hans P. Hahn, Professor of Ethnology with a regional focus on West Africa at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. The instrument was presented to Prof. Dr. Tiago de Oliveira Pinto for the teaching instrument collection of the UNESCO Chair on Transcultural Music Studies on 2 October 2020 at the conference "Music Object Stories" in the festival hall of the Goethe National Museum Weimar.

In 1986, Prof. Dr. Hans Peter Hahn brought it with him from northern Nigeria during a field research trip.

Exhibition "Sounding Objects"

10 years TMS Weimar-Jena

Opening of the exhibition "Sounding Objects" in Jena on 4 July 2019 | Photo: Private

Musical instruments from four continents were on display in the special exhibition "Sounding Objects" from 5 July to 8 November 2019 in the exhibition cabinet of the main university building in Jena.

Instruments from the TMS teaching collection

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the UNESCO Chair on Transcultural Music Studies (TMS), students of the FRANZ LISZT University of Music Weimar and the Friedrich Schiller University (FSU) Jena had organised the show with selected musical instruments from the chair's collection in Weimar.

When Prof. Dr. Tiago de Oliveira Pinto, UNESCO Chair holder, acquired a kecapi in Sumatra in 1982, he laid the foundation for the collection of musical instruments from different cultures. It now comprises about one hundred instruments from Africa, Asia, South America and Europe. 

Cooperation between Jena and Weimar

Students from the TMS Chair and the Chair of Folklore/Empirical Cultural Studies at FSU Jena researched the collection of musical instruments in the context of the seminar "Sounding Objects: Musical Instruments in Cultural Context and as Intangible Cultural Heritage" in the winter semester 2018/19, they researched the cultural origins and backgrounds of individual instruments from the collection – under the guidance of Prof. Pinto and folklorist Dr. Juliane Stückrad (FSU Jena). From April 2019, the students prepared the knowledge they had gained for the exhibition "Sounding Objects".

::: Exhibition flyer (PDF) ::: (in German)

Selected exhibits


Mbira from the workshop of Luka Mukavele in Maputo (Mozambique) | Photo: Private

The mbira is a lamellophone and is one of the oldest types of this instrument. It consists of a wooden sound board with iron tongues (lamellae). The mbira is played with both hands. The notes are produced by plucking the lamellae with the thumb (downwards) or with the index/middle fingers (upwards). For greater resonance, the instrument is held in a calabash (gourd shell). The exhibited specimens come from the workshop of Luka Mukavele in Maputo (Mozambique).


Ngoma drum from Tanzania and Auerstedt | Photo: Private

Drums are membranophones, which means that a membrane is made to vibrate in this type of instrument. The two most important distinguishing features relate to the way the head is attached to the body and the shape of the body itself. They are used as rhythm and melody instruments.

The exhibited specimens are ngoma drums from Tanzania and Auerstedt. The term "Ngoma" is both the name for drums in general and for the dance as well as the festival that goes with it.

Building instruments yourself

Bernhard Bleibinger, 2016/2017 research assistant at the Chair of Transcultural Music Studies, built them in 1998 for his master's thesis. The second (smaller) drum was made by students from Weimar in Auerstedt in 2016. Bleibinger, now a professor of musicology in South Africa, repeatedly passes on his knowledge of making the instruments to students in projects.

Through building practice, the students explore the instrument and the knowledge associated with it on the material level. The skin covering is affected by exposure to heat and water. If the drum is heated on an open fire, the pitch increases. If the drum sounds too high, the skin is relaxed with a little water, thus lowering the pitch. 

What sounds?

What is made to sound on the instrument? | Photo: Private

There have been many different attempts to classify musical instruments around the world. Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs created a "Systematics of Musical Instruments" in 1914. The two scientists posed the question of what is made to sound on an instrument. They formulated four main categories from this:

  1. the instrument itself sounds (idiophone)
  2. a membrane sounds (membranophone)
  3. a string sounds (cordophone)
  4. a column of air sounds (aerophone)

Man and instrument in dialogue

An instrument exists only in a complex fabric of musical structures. The preservation of a musical culture means the preservation of connections between people, instruments and structures.

In the context of the seminar and the exhibition "Sounding Objects", the students dealt with the question of how musical instruments can be staged as exhibits in an exhibition. In doing so, they examined individual instruments and their method of manufacture, their musical structures, ways of playing as well as references to other instruments and practices.