My Valley of the Sun: April Salomon of Musical Instrument Museum

The executive director of Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum discusses performers, restaurants and an Arizona getaway she loves.

Three years before most Phoenicians knew of an institution called Musical Instrument Museum, Salomon was working behind the scenes as the founding president’s executive assistant. Now, as the museum celebrates its fifth year in the exhibition business, Salomon is largely in charge.

How many countries, to date, are represented in the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) collection?

Nearly 200 of the world’s countries and territories are represented. As part of our global mission, we want to ensure that guests from all over the world can experience their country’s music and culture in a totally immersive and unique way. One of the only places we currently lack musical instruments is the Maldives, which would be a trip you could sign me up for any day of the week.

Had you heard of every one of these countries before someone put them on the MIM research radar?

You know what it’s like when you hear something and say, “That sounds familiar,” but aren’t entirely sure? To be perfectly honest, I had heard of almost every country and territory but I was less certain about where some of them were actually located. For instance, Tuvalu and Micronesia were a mystery to me until I discovered they were sovereign states in Oceania. It also helps that we have a geographical map included in every exhibit for reference.

Are you a proficient player of any instruments?

Proficient, no—but a dabbler, yes. I have a Martin ukulele at home that I have been learning to play for the past year. I made an attempt at piano and guitar when I was younger, but my attention was quickly diverted to visual arts, literature and sports. I absolutely love all types of music and am continually inspired by the diversity and richness of the world’s music at MIM.

What’s been one of your favorite concerts at MIM Music Theater?

As part of our grand opening nearly five years ago, I saw k.d. lang and was completely mesmerized by her performance. The acoustics in the MIM Music Theater are unlike any other venue in the country, and with only 300 seats, you can actually feel the music. Most recently, I attended a historic performance by Grammy-nominated artist, R. Carlos Nakai, who had just achieved platinum certification of his latest album, “Canyon Trilogy.” It was a spectacular sold-out concert and a really special occasion.

What kinds of music do you listen to in the privacy of your car or earbuds? Just about anything from Brahms to Florence & The Machine. One of my favorite bands in the past year to listen to is Lake Street Dive. The group has an indie-pop, jazz and soul vibe that is pretty unique and comes in handy when I’m decompressing during my commute home.

We were tipped off that you attended culinary school and have worked as a private chef. What’s your “go to” dish when you’re cooking for VIP company?

Because of my Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage, I gravitate toward the comfort foods my grandmother used to make and that my friends and family love to eat. Bistec empanizado is a classic Cuban dish more commonly known as chicken-fried steak. The trick is to marinate the steaks in lots of garlic and citrus juices, and add cumin, oregano and kosher salt to the cracker meal. Frying the steak to a golden crisp and serving it with white rice, black beans, and a fresh slice of avocado is a ticket to heaven, guaranteed.

What dish, dessert or drink from a local restaurant have you tried to replicate at home? Were you successful?

I love grapefruit and have enjoyed the Paloma at Modern Margarita lately. The ingredients are simple: tequila, organic grapefruit soda, fresh lime and grapefruit zest. I prefer Patron Silver tequila, so one day I picked that up, along with all of the other ingredients. After making the drink and trying it for the first time, I thought it was fantastic—but I realized I had forgotten to salt the rim of the glass. The second round was even better.

Where do you go to celebrate special occasions?

Depending on the occasion, I might create a celebratory meal or have an hors d’oeuvres-and-drink night at my home. If I’m going out, I like Steak 44 and even Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue in Cave Creek. I have fond memories at both places.

Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue

After MIM, of course, what do you consider to be a cream-of-the-crop cultural institution in the Valley of the Sun?

Desert Botanical Garden has been a personal favorite over the years and I’m always inspired by the offerings all year-round.

What leisure activities do you pursue in Arizona?

While not a leisure activity, I really enjoy CrossFit. I recently participated in my first Spartan Race. It was 4.8 miles with 23 obstacles, ranging from scaling walls at six, seven and eight feet in height to carrying sandbags a quarter of a mile uphill. By far, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Where do you live?

I live in the northernmost part of Scottsdale, just on the edge of Carefree, with my partner of 10 years and my beloved black Labradors. Cole, the younger of the two, is half chow and takes his marching orders from the older, wiser Fluke, who is really the one running the whole show.

What element or attraction of another city you’ve lived in do you wish could be transplanted here?

Having lived in Washington, D.C. for three years, I took the Metro just about everywhere. It was a great way to get around the city and surrounding areas. I could get to my favorite coffee shop or bookstore in only a few minutes, and even sightseeing around the monuments or across the river in Virginia was a convenience I appreciate even more now.

April Salomon’s Perfect Day in Arizona

Simple pleasures at Garland’s Lodge in Oak Creek

One of my favorite places to find respite is in Oak Creek Canyon at Garland’s Lodge, just eight miles north of Sedona. For years, I have found the organic gardens, apple orchards, and quaint cabins worth even just a weekend trip out of metro Phoenix.

Because the location is tucked into a narrow gorge across 10 acres, cell service is non-existent. Likewise, there are no televisions or other typical distractions to be found, just simple pleasures from handmade quilts you can cozy up with, to a library of books left by travelers who have discovered this treasured hideaway.

The proprietors prepare delicious meals for guests twice a day, with many of the ingredients harvested from the gardens on property. A tea service mid-afternoon is welcoming after a stroll down by the nearby creek, and a blazing fire in the main lodge provides a wonderful gathering place after dinner to relax. Knowing that I’m able to awake refreshed and experience the tranquility of those surroundings all over again is the best part.