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You’ve Never Heard These Odd Instruments Hidden At UW

The door to room 5 at the University of Washington School of Music is solid wood, nothing to distinguish it from other classrooms.

But inside this cramped space is a collection of unusual instruments, handcrafted to play one man’s music.

They were built by American composer Harry Partch, who relied on a musical system called "just intonation." Instead of scales and notes, Partch created sounds to mimic the wider range and variety of the human voice. Traditional Western instruments couldn't accommodate those sounds, so Partch invented his own.

After he died in 1974, the 50 instruments he designed and built were placed in the care of a protégé. Eventually, those instruments found a home at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

When that school decided it could no longer keep the instruments, the instruments’ guardian, Charles Corey, set out to find them a new home. Corey, the Harry Partch Foundation and the University of Washington agreed that the School of Music at the UW would be perfect.

Last fall, Corey and the instruments made the long journey to Seattle. Listen (and play!) them below.

Play the chromelodeon (1950) on your computer!

Play the chamber bowls (1950) on your computer!

Play the bass marimba (1949) on your computer!

Play the diamond marimba (1946) on your computer!

Play the harmonic canon II (1953) on your computer!

Play the kithara II (1954) on your computer!

Meany Hall on campus. On May 26, Corey and his students will perform some of Partch’s compositions in Meany Hall’s Studio Theater.

This story aired originally on Feb. 12, 2015.

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