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Music Professor Donates Massive Instrument Collection

It started as a garage sale purchase, and grew. Last month, music professor Aurelia Hartenberger and her husband donated 2,500 instruments to the Sheldon Art Galleries.

“I think like many collectors, you start collecting and then the collection takes over,” Hartenberger told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter on Friday. “I felt that I wanted to give something to the community back about the beauty of our humanity and that was these musical instruments.”

Although that first instrument was spotted at a garage sale, since then Hartenberger has traveled the world and the World Wide Web to add to her collection.

“This past summer I was in South Africa working with the Ndebele people and the Zulu people, and you pick up instruments as you go,” she said. “I also collected on the Internet and through auctions.”

Hartenberger is an adjunct music professor at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, Webster University and Maryville University. She had previously loaned instruments to the Sheldon for exhibits.

“It is a collection that we have shown over the years,” said Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, director of the Sheldon Art Galleries. “It meshes beautifully with the Sheldon’s mission to show both visual arts and have musical concerts, so it kind of brings things together. It has such a richness of possibility.”

The oldest instruments in the collection are 3,000 years old, Hartenberger said. On Friday, she demonstrated how to play South American ocarinas from the 1950s and a Nepalese shell horn. The Sheldon opened an exhibit of African, Asian and Latin American instruments today.

“Even though these are world instruments and world cultures, half the collection is European classical instruments and American-made instruments that are historic,” Hartenberger said.

“There are instruments that are really museum-quality instruments that can’t be played, but there’s also an educational level of instrument,” Lahs-Gonzales said. The Sheldon will use parts of the collection in programs teaching students about science, math and the art of making music, she said.

Hartenberger said she hasn’t donated everything to the Sheldon — she kept a few instruments.

“Just a couple,” she said. “I’m still collecting.”

Related Event

"A World of Music: Africa, Asia and Latin America"

  • When: Feb. 6, 2015, to Jan. 2, 2016; an opening reception is from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6, 2015
  • Where: The Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Blvd., St. Louis
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.