FEATURE — Summer 2010

Aurelia Hartenberger, PhD ’81, an instructor of world music, sits amidst a selection of her nearly 3,000 instruments from around the world. (Photo: Joe Angeles)

An Instrument of Harmony

An instructor of music and collector of world instruments, alumna Aurelia Hartenberger expresses the importance of appreciating other cultures. To her, music and art help us understand, enjoy and admire diversity.

By Kristin Tennant

One June morning in 1974, Aurelia Hartenberger and her 4-year-old daughter set out to visit some garage sales. As Hartenberger searched for clothes and toys for her young children, she happened upon one particular item — and then made a purchase that forever changed the tenor of her life.

“It was mid-morning, and we were in a cul-de-sac where all the houses were having garage sales,” Hartenberger says. “Suddenly I spotted an old flügelhorn. I couldn’t take my eyes off it — I had never seen anything like it before.”

An early 1900s instrument, the horn’s price tag showed $50. Hartenberger bought it without hesitation. At the time, she directed the band at Oakville High School in South St. Louis County, and she wanted to show it to her students.

“It really sparked something in me,” Hartenberger says. “The horn itself was fascinating, and so was the experience of finding it. I couldn’t believe old instruments like that were out there, waiting to be discovered.”

“It really sparked something in me,” Hartenberger says. “The horn itself was fascinating, and so was the experience of finding it. I couldn’t believe old instruments like that were out there, waiting to be discovered.”

The back ribs from an exceptionally rare soprano lute show elaborate scrimshawed-design inlays, consisting of ivory, tortoise shell and mother-of-pearl; the lute originates from Castello Sforzesco, Milan, possibly dating to the 16th century. (Photo: Joe Angeles)
This view shows the finger board of the soprano lute from Castello Sforzesco, Milan. (Photo: Joe Angeles)

Now, more than 30 years after that first $50 purchase, the flügelhorn is worth $1,000. Further, the seed of fascination the purchase planted in Hartenberger grew into a full-fledged passion: Her collection of historical world instruments today numbers nearly 3,000 items. And it’s one of the largest private collections in the United States.

Hartenberger’s world instrument collection includes aerophones (wind), chordophones (string), and membranophones and idiophones (percussion with and without a stretched membrane) from Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Europe, Oceania/Pacific and the United States. The U.S. instruments cross cultures from Native American to American jazz.

An Olmec whistling masquet from between 1,000-500 B.C. carries the distinction of being the oldest instrument in the collection. Hartenberger’s most-prized string instrument, a 16th-century, 12-string soprano lute, displays with elaborate scrimshawed-design inlays, consisting of ivory, tortoise shell and mother-of-pearl. The lute, traced back to a castle in Milan, Italy, is one of only two like it in the world. Hartenberger also owns five Mozart clarinets made of boxwood and ivory, each in a different key. African instruments constitute about one-third of her collection.

“I never picked up just any instrument,” she says about how her collection grew over the years. “It had to be well-crafted and have something unique to say.”

A lute hurdy-gurdy with figural head, said to be carved to represent Mozart, dates to the 1850s. Its French name is “vielle à roue” (wheel fiddle). (Photo: Joe Angeles)

If Hartenberger finds an instrument and cannot prove its historical authenticity, she does not buy it. A variety of ways exist to determine the past of historical instruments. The only genuine way to become an expert, however, Hartenberger says, is to learn as much as you can about a place by interacting with the people.

“I travel to different places, put myself in crowds, talk to people, ask questions and build relationships,” she says. “People want to be known, understood — and to be heard.”

A life unfolds in surprising ways
Growing up in Fredericktown, Mo., Hartenberger always enjoyed music, but she never imagined where that interest would lead her.

When the time came to go to college, Hartenberger could not decide whether to study music or math. She eventually settled on music education. Ten years later, while teaching at Oakville High School, she chose to pursue an advanced degree in music education at Washington University.

A classic parlor guitar — Paganini type — hails from Paris, France, c. 1850. In between the frets, 13 separate scenes of Paris are carved in mother-of-pearl. (Photo: Joe Angeles)

“The district required all teachers to go back to school for a few credits from time to time,” she says. “I decided if I was going to go, I would make it count.” Hartenberger credits her positive graduate school experience to her “wonderful adviser,” the late Lewis Hilton, professor emeritus of music, and to the many guest speakers and performers the university brought to campus.

“Learning about world music at Washington University exposed students to more than just the music,” says Hartenberger, PhD ’81. “We focused on the people, the cuisine, the flavors, the things that were important to them. It was all very connected for my professors, so it became that way for me, too.”

Hartenberger’s list of interests never seems to end, and she follows her curiosity wherever it takes her. Graduate school was an exciting time. In her research, she began to fully grasp the importance of a comprehensive arts education.

“People take everything they’ve learned in every subject, and they create art from it, to acknowledge their existence on earth,” she says. “If we don’t study and teach the arts, all that knowledge and beauty will be lost.”

Bringing together teaching, the arts and brain research
After finishing her doctorate, including a dissertation on music education curriculum, Hartenberger became curriculum director for the Mehlville School District in St. Louis County, employing knowledge of the arts and learning across all subject matters. Since 2006, she has been music coordinator for Lindbergh School District.

This array of flutes includes a wooden Chinese dizi, and European and American gold, boxwood and ebonite flutes, dating from the 18th to 20th century. (Photo: Joe Angeles)

Hartenberger laments that so much time is spent learning facts and figures rather than learning how to feel and express. “The arts are such an important part of education; it’s where all things blend together,” she says.

“Music is the most sophisticated art form for the brain to comprehend, because it’s based on time — specifically the organization of sound in time,” she says. “Grasping the element of time is the most sophisticated thing the brain has to do. It involves being able to listen, retain and analyze. You don’t see the complete picture until the end of the song. Music is about taking something abstract and making it concrete.”

For Hartenberger, it’s important that all her loves — instruments, cultures, teaching, and the brain and how it learns — come together in her life and work. With her background and interests, she makes an impact as a curriculum expert, an instructor of world music courses at local universities, and a leader of workshops that demonstrate the connection between brain research and teaching and learning. In recognition of her efforts, she was inducted into the Missouri Music Educators Association “Hall of Fame” in 2010.

A home for instruments, learning and growth
Hartenberger’s desire to teach — to share what she has collected and learned — reaches beyond the classroom. Currently, she is able to share her collection of instruments with the general public only through occasional temporary exhibits and via her website: hwmconline.com. She and her husband, however, hope someday to find a way to create a permanent exhibit space for the collection, which will, in turn, draw the collections of others.

“The museum would be another way for people to experience the arts,” Hartenberger says. “I always tell my students that mankind preserves what he likes; he likes what he understands; and he understands what he is taught. We must develop an appreciation for others, and for the world we live in and share. Music and other arts can help us do that.

Kristin Tennant is a freelance writer based in Urbana, Illinois.

For more information, visit hwmconline.com.