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Visit to Kessels Music Instrument Museum

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by Andy Kelly

Living in Tilburg for the last 8 years, I had heard the story of Marietje Kessels, the poor 11 year old girl who was murdered in the Noordhoek church on August 22, 1900 with no one was brought to justice. The story I was told was that Marietje came from a rich factory owner’s house but I did not know her family business was the production of musical instruments. So, I thought it would be great to find out more about one of the most famous families from Tilburg.

The day started like all guests to the museum trying to find the entrance, I was glad to see Anne waiting for me at the entrance to the textile museum were she proceeded to show me how to get to the musical instrument factory. After going out the textile museum and up some stairs the group was brought into a little room, where tea, coffee and biscuits were served.

At this point, the curator introduced himself and began to tell the story of the factory and the Kessels family which I would find out go hand in hand. The museum is staffed by volunteers who love their work and it shows. An example of this was even though the curators English was not the best and sometimes he had to ask for the right word, he spoke with the passion of a man wanting to share his knowledge of a beloved hobby. So back to the tour, next on the agenda was a short film about the factory which turned out to be kind of an accident.

Mathijs Kessels, a man that worked in the sheet music industry and an accomplished composer, saw a market for his sheet music in an industrial town known as Tilburg. Due to the high levels industrialization, this brought something totally new to the lower class free time. The factory owners encouraged music playing within the lower-ranks as, in the words of the curator, playing a musical instrument was a lot better than sitting in the pub.

So, as with many things, Mathijs started a small printing house in Tilburg and for some reason, people started bringing their musical instruments to the printing house to have them fixed. And in true entrepreneurial fashion, he said, why not? Demand became so great for musical instrument repair that Mathijs decided to not only repair them but make them. He found a site outside of the city center (next to the big AH that is now a green field ) to build a grand house and a new factory. Business grew and his factory at one point could supply almost everything to kit out a full marching band.

As with most stories, what goes up must come down. Mathijs received a large order of 900 pianos that were made and delivered but for which were never paid. This caused the company to come close to bankruptcy at which point the bank stepped in and took control of the factory. This ended up with Mathijs being kicked out of his own factory and starting a competing factory right next door. In the long term, not a great idea as orders and invoicing were delivered to the old address. Matthijs passed away on the 21st of December 1932 and within 20 years, both the new and old musical instrument factories were out of business.

So with the film ending, we were led to the brass workshop and shown the many stages of producing brass instruments. Being a mechanical engineer, it did bring me back to my student days. We were really shown how the instruments were made and the exhibit had a great illustration of showing this step by step. Next on the agenda was the wood instruments assembly area which included a saxophone to my surprise…

Well I don’t want to spoil the rest of the museum but I can recommend a visit. Half the fun is finding the museum and, if you have an interest in music or manufacturing, you’ll definitely be in the right spot.

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