From Takeo to Arizona: Discovering Khmer and World Instruments at the Musical Instrument Museum

A collage of international musical instrument displays

During our SUSI Scholars visit to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix on Saturday, I had an impressive moment when I spotted a musical instrument from my hometown. The museum houses a vast collection of musical instruments from around the world.

A traditional Cambodian instrument consisting of a long wooden stick, a string, and a gourd
Say Diev from the Takeo Province is displayed at the Musical Instrument Musuem

I was thrilled to see the Say Diev or Khse Diev, also known as the Single String Instrument (plucked lute) at this museum. This instrument was brought from my birthplace, Takeo Province, and holds significant historical value. The Say Diev is one of the oldest musical instruments in Cambodia, dating back to the 7th century. Sculptures of people playing this instrument can be found on the walls of famous temples in Cambodia, such as Angkor Wat Temple and Bayon Temple.

The Say Diev is crafted from wood, gourd, ivory, and a string, which can be made from copper wire. According to some musical researchers in Cambodia, silk thread was used to make the string in the past. While playing, the gourd resonator is held against the chest to make a beautiful, peaceful sound. 

This instrument was often played solo, particularly in the past, by people in rural areas during the harvesting season. It was also used in the Khmer wedding orchestra. 

A Cambodian scholar proudly pointing to the exhibit of instruments from his home country
Sokhen Sun (Cambodia) was excited to see a musical instrument from his birthplace during the MIM visit

Apart from the Say Diev, the museum also displays several other types of instruments from Cambodia.

In addition, it was fascinating to explore the diverse musical instruments from different cultures. I had the opportunity to explore the rich cultures of my fellow SUSI scholars from 17 regions, as their musical instruments are also on display alongside those from over 200 countries and territories. Seeing how each culture brings these musical instruments to life was inspiring.

Examining various instruments on display at the MIM
Cronkite Assistant Dean Dawn Gilpin looks at musical instruments with Alejandro Vargas Johansson (Costa Rica) during a visit to Musical Instrument Museum on June 24, 2023

Apart from exploring the various musical instruments from around the world, I also had the opportunity to spend some time in the museum’s experience gallery, where I played some musical instruments myself. It was an enjoyable moment for me.

An exhibit at the MIM displays jazz instruments from Chicago
Two SUSI scholars explore musical instruments from Chigago

If asked whether I would visit the museum again, I would answer a definite “yes.” However, I would prefer an entire day to immerse myself in the exhibits fully. The visit was truly worth it, and I am grateful for the chance to have been a part of it.

It is worth mentioning that it wasn’t just me who enjoyed visiting this museum; my fellow SUSI scholars also expressed their happiness and appreciation for this trip. We consider ourselves lucky to be the first batch of SUSI scholars to have the opportunity to visit this amazing museum.

Due to our enjoyment at the site, we ran 15 minutes late from our scheduled departure. Nevertheless, this trip was well worth it and a memorable experience for all of us.

The scholars admire guitars from around the world on display at the MIM
The SUSI scholars enjoyed their visit to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix