Music exhibit offers a tuneful look back



The hills around Jackson Hole have been alive with the sound of music for a long time.

To salute Jackson’s rich musical history the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum created a new permanent music exhibit called “Music From the Valley Floor,” which opened in March.

The small yet impressive collection includes a number of string instruments such as banjos, guitars and violins and even a player piano from the earlier part of the 20th century.

Also part of the exhibit is a 7-minute video narrative on the importance of music in the valley delivered by Jackson native and well-known classical guitarist Byron Tomingas.

“There’s a lot of stories in the music played to keep early settlers from going crazy with cabin fever during the tremendous winters of the early part of the 1900s,” Tomingas said.

Museum Executive Director Sharon Kahin said Tomingas was instrumental in helping to prepare the new addition to the museum.

“Byron was the catalyst, really,” she said, although she admits the idea for the music exhibit was hers.

Back in March Tomingas performed at the historical society’s annual Mud Season Blues fundraiser and interwove stories about the role of music in Jackson Hole, Kahin said.

With the money raised from the event the museum was able to buy the computer and screen on which the video about Jackson’s music history and its notable musicians can be viewed.

“The museum had odd bits of music things, and it occurred to the staff that it could pull it all together as a display of its own,” Tomingas said. “It wasn’t my idea, but I might have had some influence on it.”

Jenna Thorburn, curator of collections, discovered the long-ago donated instruments in the museum’s storage facility.

“It was absolutely fun to curate,” she said, “to get them out and clean them up and see them in the light of day. They are all in decent condition.”

Thorburn said Tomingas hadn’t seen the instruments before she brought them out of storage. He had only heard stories about the musicians and what they had played.

“When he saw them he took a particular shine to the banjos from the late ’20s, early ’30s,” she said. “And he actually plays some of the instruments in the video.”

“There are two brilliant four-string banjos,” Tomingas said. “One belonged to the son of Steven Leek of Leek’s Marina and elk conservation fame.

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