Juan Castrillón’s ‘Re-Covering the Ney Collection’

Juan Castrillón, a Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology, didn’t develop the online version of his exhibit “Re-Covering the Ney Collection” with any premonition that right now, millions of people would be confined to their homes not only in Philadelphia, but throughout the country and world. 

Glass display case of ney flutes, part of Juan Castrillón’s exhibit.
Ney flutes on view in Juan Castrillón’s exhibit, “Re-Covering the Ney Collection.” (Image: Pennsylvania Gazette)

But as it turns out, his pre-planned web exhibit has become one of the limited opportunities to visit a museum right now—prompting professors to assign it to their students, and enticing people from all over to scroll their way through a virtual trip.

Originally on display at the since-closed Van Pelt Library—but also open for visits online anytime here—“Re-Covering the Ney” showcases four reed-flute instruments (neys) that have lived in the Penn Museum’s African collections since the late 19th century. Castrillón says there is no certain dating of these particular neys, but he suspects they range from the 17th century to the end of the 19th century.

The ney as an instrument goes back much further than that. In excavating the ancient city of Ur, Penn archaeologists found what are likely the oldest versions of the ney. Penn Museum houses one of them, dating back to 2,800 B.C., in its Near East collection.

In 2001, Castrillón was studying anthropology as an undergraduate student in Colombia when his teacher popped in a cassette tape of someone playing the ney. He still remembers that moment. “I was just grabbed and hooked,” he says. “I felt as if I were home when I listened to that sound.

Read more at the Pennsylvania Gazette.