Calgary is now home to the National Music Centre (NMC)! The grand opening on July 1, saw thousands of people walk through the doors of the newly constructed building. The mission of the National Music Centre is “to give Canada a place that amplifies the love, sharing and understanding of music”; in their new home in Studio Bell, with five levels of exhibitions, a collection of over 2000 artifacts and pieces, and a performance space that seats 300, the NMC more than achieves this goal.
My mom and I checked out the space on July 4, a quieter day than the grand opening, and spent nearly three hours wandering and immersing ourselves in the musical world the space creates. The top level, level 5, is where the ‘Best of Canada’ exhibition lives. It showcases and celebrates the Canadian musicians who left a lasting mark on the world’s stage. Around the corner from ‘Idols and Icons’, is the East Village Skybridge. Here, you can look out over the City and on a classic Calgary day, get lost in the “busy” sky. Patrick Marold’s installation Solar Drones provides a unique soundscape for this most epic of walkways. This incredible mash up of art and science, is constructed from the pianos from NMC’s collection that were destroyed in the 2013 flood. Sixteen wooden pieces hang from the ceiling, and are connected with an electromagnetic system to solar panels on the roof. Each produce a continuous note, or drone, based on the City’s weather conditions. Each time you walk through the Skybridge, the soundscape changes based on the sky above. How cool is that?!
My favourite exhibit was on level 4, the interactive ‘Making Music’. It is here that I could have spent my entire day. There was ‘Unplugged’ – where you can check out rare acoustic instruments, ‘Plugged In’ – if electronic instruments are more your style, and ‘Workshops’ – where, through a window into another world, you can watch the NMC “gear-heads” restore and maintain the NMC collection. I spent most of my time on this level being taught, by virtual music teachers, how to play Rush on the drums and then Hedley on the piano. We even had the chance to try our hand at mixing and remixing a classic tune by Tegan and Sara.
On level 3 we were taught some of the science behind the music. We learned how our bodies and brains react to music and why some songs get stuck in our heads easier than other songs – Waterloo by ABBA anyone? We also learned what our vocal ranges are and were tested on our pitch. Only one in 10,000 people in the world are born with perfect pitch, and my mom and I learned that we are definitely in the other 9,999. It was also on this level that I saw the piano Elton John wrote Tiny Dancer on, and I nearly fainted.
The NMC has big dreams for education, performance, recording, and the future of their exhibitions. Their vision is “to be a national catalyst for discovery, innovation and renewal through music,” and I think that Calgary is the perfect place for the NMC to grow and inspire. Even if it’s not the music you are interested in, go for the building. The King Eddy, the adjacent performance space, and a building with the most epic musical past, will be reopened for the duration of the Calgary Stampede. Thanks for the music education, Calgary!