Big City Tales

Canada’s National Music Centre Strikes the Right Chord

August 9, 2018
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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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Home Sweet Home Adventures in Calgary

January 6, 2012
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The Calgary Tower surges to the sky on a hot summer day.

For those, like me, who have ever lost touch with their home town, I invite you to take the time to explore and rediscover the sights and sounds in your own backyard — it might surprise you to find that adventure awaits at every turn!

And so it was, after returning from Europe in the summer of 2010, that I found myself wandering around the streets of Calgary in search of some of the same history, beauty, and awe that had struck me so deeply in London, Paris, Rome and spots in between.  I freely admit that I was initially highly dubious about finding anything to match the splendor of Europe, but am pleased to report that this little exercise resulted in a change of heart and truly opened my eyes to what Calgary has to offer.  It is, indeed, a big city of the world in its own right and deserves a post in this blog, so please read on and discover the hidden treasures to be had in the “Heart of the West” and home of the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”…

Heritage Park – Celebrating the charm of days gone by

Granted, Calgary is still a “young” city on the world stage, but there is nonetheless a rich and colourful history that is proudly on display at Heritage Park.  Once a humble outpost, Calgary has grown in leaps and bounds and evolved into a major urban centre, but its western small-town roots are firmly entrenched and well-preserved.  A stroll around Heritage Park takes you back in time to the early days when the “wild west” was being tamed and the seeds of modern-day civilization were planted.  An old-fashioned train and steamboat, along with horse-drawn wagons and crank-style cars provide a glimpse into early modes of transportation, and the sweet and succulent aromas emanating from the bakery and candy shoppe leave your taste buds salivating for the goodness of simple pleasures like home-baked bread and melt-in-your-mouth gum drops!   Period costumes are donned by all staff members and there is even a theatrical troupe that shares their acting, singing and dancing skills in entertaining (and sometimes hysterical!) skits staged throughout the park.  The most recent addition on the grounds is the large and impressive Gasoline Alley that boasts outdoor and indoor displays showcasing the transition from the old to the new west once cars, trucks, planes, etc. became more prevalent and enabled the expansion and growth of Calgary from a small town to a big, booming city, which it remains to this day!

A classic red barn at Heritage Park.

The Calgary Tower / Downtown Corridor – Look up, way up, progress is high in the sky

Calgary may be referred to in some circles as “Cowtown”, but while this term is appropriate for the city’s western heritage, it unfortunately does not do justice in reflecting the truly urbanite aspects the city has taken on over the years, including the host of large concrete buildings that stretch for blocks of avenues and streets, east to west and north to south.  In fact, one of the things I like the most about Calgary is the expansive downtown skyline, which is impressive from any direction it is viewed from, and, for my money, rivals the likes of NYC, TO, LA and other major centres.  I will concede that by current standards the Calgary Tower is certainly dwarfed by its competition, but it nonetheless has a very unique shape and still attracts its fair share of visitors.  Despite the lagging economy and predictions of doom and gloom around the globe, new buildings continue to be built and The Bow and Eighth Avenue Place are both recent additions to the landscape that have greatly added to Calgary’s claim to fame as the mecca of corporate headquarters.

Eighth Avenue Place glitters and gleams in downtown Calgary.

Olympic Plaza / City Hall – Where the past glory of the games meets the current hustle and bustle of daily civic activity

One of the lasting legacies of the 1988 Winter Olympics is found across the street from City Hall.  Olympic Plaza is where the medal ceremonies took place and to this day is still a main gathering site for Calgarians to congregate throughout the year be it for New Year’s Eve, Canada Day, or Stampede celebrations.  It was also the site for Calgary protestors showing support for the Occupy Wall Street inspired movement that swept through many cities in 2011.

Olympic Plaza as seen from the Calgary Tower.

McDougall Centre – This old stone beauty shines brightly all year-round

During the December/January holiday season, McDougall Centre is one of the most festively decorated buildings in the downtown core and is a sight to behold, but it also has tremendous eye appeal during the rest of the year.  The grounds are well-treed, well-groomed and well-lit making it a very fitting office for when the Premier of Alberta is in town.

The setting sun casts a warm glow across the stone exterior of McDougall Centre.

Prince’s Island Park / Riley Park – Have park, will picnic and photograph!

Too much concrete can be overwhelming, so kudos to those city planners from days gone by who had the foresight to allow for natural green spaces to remain intact while still allowing for the growth and expansion of new areas around the city’s core.  Calgarians love their parks and flock in droves to them as time and weather allow.  Alas, if only Mother Nature would cooperate and deliver up a warmer and longer summertime, these parks would be utilized all the more!

A flower bed boldly blooms in Riley Park.

The Beltline District – A mix of old and new makes for a popular place to shop, eat and live

Halfway between downtown and the well-known 17th Avenue corridor lies the Beltline that attracts quite a Bohemian crowd with its bevy of diners, coffee houses, shops, libraries, parks, apartment/condo complexes, churches and every other conceivable creature-comfort needed to survive in the big city.  Yes, it’s a trendy spot to set up an abode or just while away the time on the weekend.

Historic Lougheed House in the scenic and popular Beltline district.

Elbow River Pathway – Nature in the heart of the city offers the best of both worlds

Truly one of the most picturesque settings in Calgary (and highly priced real estate areas!), the south end of 4th Street SW that converges with Elbow Drive is a little bit of paradise in the big city.  Like the Beltline, this area also has a lot of amenities and draws a large crowd for the annual Lilac Festival in the spring.

A view of downtown from the Elbow River Pathway.

The Calgary Zoo – Lions and tigers and bears, oh my, and don’t forget about the dinosaurs!

Arguably one of the best zoos in the world, Calgary’s home to wild and domesticated animals of all shapes and sizes — including the life-size and oh-so-real looking models of dinosaurs — continues to expand its exhibits and looks forward to welcoming penguins in the near future.  Zoo Lights is a popular winter attraction that sets the zoo aglow during the holiday season and beckons us to not forget our fine furry, feathered, finned and otherwise friends during the long dark days of winter.

A giraffe and zebra live together in peace and harmony at the Calgary Zoo.

So, as you can plainly tell, there is much to see, do, and enjoy in Calgary and 2012 is the ideal year to plan a trip being the centennial celebration of the Stampede in July.   The hootin’ and hollerin’ will be in high gear as Calgary welcomes the world and shows off both its western and urban sides, a duality that makes it a great place to call home sweet home!

Some more sights around town…

An old grain elevator still stands tall and proud at Heritage Park.

Pretty as a peacock in its prime!

A classic stone church adds charm to the Beltline district.

Galloping steel horses near Court of Queen’s bench.

The ferris wheel spins in the sun at Heritage Park.

CP Rail headquarters along 9th Avenue SW.

Old City Hall is home of Calgary’s Mayor and City Councillors.

The fountain at Prince’s Island Park.

The Calgary Tower framed in greenery and bright blue sky.