A set of pins, a revolving cylinder or disc and tuned teeth in a box… put these seemingly ordinary items together and you might find yourself with a timeless musical box. Have you ever wondered about the origins of musical boxes?
Located along Telok Ayer Street – the shoreline where 19th century enterprising pioneers of Singapore used to arrive by sea – next to Thien Hock Kheng temple (one of the island’s oldest Chinese temples), Singapore’s 1st Musical Box Museum sets up shop within the national monument known as Chong-Wen Ge. Previously an educational institute, this building is befitting for the Musical Box Museum.
After all, there is a special mission behind the establishment and much of it has to do with the sharing of knowledge, hopefully, over many generations. In this cosy space, you can expect to go back to the roots of matter and find out how musical boxes evolved from clocks, as well as rediscover Singapore’s position as an advanced marine hub in the 19th century.
Keep in mind the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, as you step into the sparsely decorated museum. With its simple furnishing, one may not immediately recognise the value of what the Singapore Musical Box Museum has to offer. But, I assure you that you would be impressed once you look beyond the visuals. Each piece of ‘treasure’ has their own personality and each burst of melodic notes will bring jolts of surprise and delight. If you are lucky, you may get a tour around the museum with its founder – Mr. Naoto Orui, and he will share the stories behind these timeless pieces. If not, the friendly museum curators promise an interesting and engaging tour that usually lasts 40 minutes.
Having a personal interest in musical boxes, I was filled with anticipation as the museum curator winded the first musical instrument that we came across. A split second of silence seems an eternity… … all of us held our breath, excited to hear the first notes of melody. And unexpectedly, the little musical instrument came to life with cheerful feminine chimes, enhanced and amplified as it was set upon the wooden cabinet. Interestingly, the volume and quality of such musical instrument can be enhanced when it is placed on a hard surface (material plays a part too!). Our first tune ended as unexpectedly as it began, and delighted chatters broke out among our group. I was enthralled.
One particular musical ‘box’ will definitely catch your attention in spite of its dormant state. Encased in a transparent case and labeled China, the Chinese music box was reputedly made in Singapore during the colonial period! This special piece is currently awaiting restoration but even in its silence, it seems to speak volume: Why would a product of Singapore be labeled as a China product? Well, the answer lies in the museum and the tour.
As we moved along, I was struck by an epiphany – these musical boxes, some of which older than me by more than two centuries have witnessed the passage of time. Somewhere, someone has commissioned them a long time ago, and they have been to places, brought delight and other inexplicable emotions to families, friends, and even strangers! The age of time can be felt through these musical boxes and along with them, came ghosts of the past.
These ghosts surfaced amid the floating notes of ageless melodies and interesting history shared by Mr. Orui; a pair of dancers trotting gaily to the lively music onboard a majestic ocean liner, a French Imperial family gathering around the priceless piece with great pride, an elderly woman bemoaning a lost family heirloom. Joy, love, regrets, excitement, sadness, solace… … There’s much to uncover, but not all are in the distant past. Did I mention that musical box featured in American pop-sensation Alicia Keys’s “No One” music video?
There are approximately 40 musical ‘boxes’ in the museum, and while most of these lovely pieces are originally from Germany, Switzerland, America (too!) etc., they have been discovered by Mr. Orui in Europe, brought to Japan and now, in Singapore.
Each visitor will have their own perception on different attractions and destinations. For some, the Singapore Musical Box Museum may be a source of edutainment. For others, it could be a learning experience. For me, the tour at Singapore Musical Box Museum presents a journey through time.
In the current age of technology where time falls short and almost every other thing is focused on efficiency, it is important to slow down and take pleasure by staying in the moment. Sometimes, the key lies in going back to basic. And, Singapore Musical Box Museum promises that contemplative space for busy city dwellers like myself to retreat.
Singapore Musical Box Museum
Opening hours: 10am to 6pm | Monday – Friday
Tour schedule: Hourly tours from 10am (Last tour at 5pm)
Tour duration: 40 minutes
Admission charges: S$12.00/adult (Discount applies for students and senior citizens)
Contact: +65 6221 0102
The above information is based on the author’s own experience and should only be used as a reference. For more information on the destination, do check out: http://www.singaporemusicalboxmuseum.org/