Big City Tales

Canada’s National Music Centre Strikes the Right Chord | August 9, 2018

The story of music in Canada is a long and celebrated tale that encompasses many unique “Made in Canada” technological advances along with a host of amazingly talented artists who have made a mark in their home and native land and around the world. From the trailblazers that introduced a new sound/vibe or instrument to the established artists that have proudly reached the top of the charts time and again, Canada’s National Music Centre (NMC) strikes the right chord in showing off all aspects of the country’s rich musical heritage.

Housed in the stunning Studio Bell building in Calgary, Alberta’s trendy East Village district, the distinctive architecture was inspired by the vast Canadian landscape and the curved intricacy of musical instruments. The entire complex consists of a series of nine towers that interlock and are connected by an inner walkway. The sleek exterior look of the five-storey Studio Bell tower continues inside with 226,000 custom glazed terracotta tiles adorning the walls that gleam in shades of metallic and earthen tones thanks to plenty of windows that let in natural light.

The NMC features both permanent and temporary exhibitions that are displayed in 22 gallery areas fittingly referred to as “stages.” Three of the galleries are Halls of Fame that pay homage to their respective inductees such as the Barenaked Ladies and Steven Page, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Oscar Peterson, k.d. lang, Anne Murray, and many, many others. The Canadian Music Hall of Fame has honoured a total of 52 musical acts (bands and solo artists) since it was established in 1978. In addition to plaques and pictures, the exhibition space contains clothing and instruments donated by inductees.

One of the NMC’s popular temporary exhibitions is the Milestones gallery that is dedicated to the artist/band chosen by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In 2017, Sarah McLachlan was the rightful honouree and many of her other awards, personal quotes and the instruments she plays were part of the display.

Showcase is another temporary exhibition space that attracts a lot of attention. In 2017, the incredible career of Tom Cochrane was recognized in light of the 25th anniversary of his iconic song Life is a Highway being released. The exhibit included some of Cochrane’s concert attire and his guitars, along with numerous awards, and anecdotal video clips.

Be it plugged in or unplugged, sound in all of its variations is a major aspect of the NMC. The Sound Affects gallery includes one of Elton John’s old upright pianos and offers a demo of the famous Kimball Theatre Organ used to accompany silent films in the 1920s. The Unplugged gallery features the drum set used to record the original Hockey Night in Canada theme song, and the Plugged In gallery contains TONTO, the world’s largest analog synthesizer used by the likes of Stevie Wonder to record his albums back in the day.

Highly visual and interactive galleries such as Soundscapes and The Musical Mind provide opportunities for appreciating the connection between sound and sight, and discovering some interesting music/mind facts. Playing/experimenting with instruments in designated areas around the NMC is also very much encouraged!

Canada certainly has a lot to be proud of when it comes to the breadth of stellar musical acts it has generated. The Idols & Icons gallery is a decade by decade overview of some of the country’s most beloved and well known solo artists and bands. It truly is a music fan’s dream to see artifacts collected from the concert performances of the likes of Shania Twain, Avril Lavigne, Jann Arden, Michael Buble, Randy Bachman, and Corey Hart to name but a few.

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