South Dakota… Tourists flock to Mount Rushmore, motorcyclists roar into Sturgis, the Badlands get its fair share of visitors and EVERYONE stops at Wall Drug. So who knew that South Dakota had a world renowned musical instrument museum? So what you say? How much time can you really spend in a music museum … an hour? Or you might possibly think your children would find that BOOORRRING.  Well, you can easily spend 5 hours and that is basically a walk through with a little bit of reading. From my observations kids who were there with parents or grandparents loved the place from the instruments of famous entertainers to the peculiar instruments of Asia and Africa.

The National Music Museum is located in Vermillion SD on the campus of the University of South Dakota.

The National Music Museum founded in 1973 houses musical instrument collections of over 15,000 from most cultures and historical periods.  It has the reputation for being the most inclusive collection of instruments to be found anywhere in the world.  In addition to instruments the museum boasts an extensive research library.  There is a laboratory for instrument restoration and musicians from the United States and other countries meet there frequently to do research.

Arne B Larson - the Musician and the Collector  teaching music in Little Falls MN

Arne B Larson – the Musician and the Collector teaching music in Little Falls MN

The nucleus of the museum was the Arne B Larson Collection. Arne who was destined to take over the family farm in Hanska, Minnesota followed his passion for music and in the midst of the depression of the ’30s “set off, literally with a nickel in his pocket and cardboard in his shoes for the Minneapolis College of Music.” His journey took him to Northwestern University where he earned his Masters in Music and then in 1938 to Little Falls MN where he taught music. He moved to International Falls and in 1943 he became Head of the Music Department in the Brookings SD public schools, finally ending up at the University of South Dakota in 1966. During this entire period of time he collected instruments — more than 2500 of them. In 1979 his collection of rare, unique and exotic instruments was donated to the National Music Museum. His collection drew interest from other museums and he was often questioned on his decision to donate it to a museum located in the middle of nowhere. He would quip: “It’s no farther from New York to Vermillion than it is from Vermillion to New York.”



The Serpentine Indian Horn in the upper left hand corner of the picture is part of the Arne B Larson collection. This was acquired for Larson by commentator Lowell Thomas on one of his trips to Tibet.

Also pictured are telescoping trumpets that were a gift from Western International Music, in Greeley, Colorado, 2001. It is not unusual as you wind your way through the museum to find instruments that were gifts from other institutions and museums. It speaks to the fact that Vermillion’s National Music Museum is known throughout the country and world as a place that strives to present all instruments — past and present — good instruments and not so good instruments. I would like to believe that recognizing this others want to help enhance and maintain this one place where everyone can get a complete education on the creation and evolution of musical instruments.

Here are just a few instruments that you might find interesting…. there are a lot more (thousands and thousands) where these came from and each is special and each is unique and each has an interesting if not very colorful history!




I could post picture after picture after picture, but now that you know what a really terrific place the National Music Museum in Vermillion is you need to go take your own pictures.  I promise you, you will not regret taking a little trip to visit this museum.

Vermillion is a great little college town with nice motels and good restaurants.  Prices are reasonable but your biggest bargain is the Museum.  $10 for adults, $8.00 for Seniors and for those ages 0 -18 it is free  They also have FREE FRIDAYS.

On Free Fridays I just put more money in the donation box they have.

Be sure and check out their website for more information.

You can also see a list of their displayed instruments here:



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