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Magical Musical Tour: Calgary’s National Music Centre

By IAN DOIG

An artist's rendering of the new building, opening 2016 (Image: Allied Works Architecture/National Music Centre)

An artist’s rendering of the new building, opening 2016 (Image: Allied Works Architecture/National Music Centre)

The National Music Centre (NMC) occupies two floors of Customs House, a grand old historical building on downtown’s Eleventh Avenue SW. Its large collection of instruments is viewable by public tour. This is the tadpole stage of what will become a glorious bullfrog of a facility, Canada’s next-generation music centre. Its sprawling new home is now under construction, and will encompass the King Edward Hotel, Calgary’s legendary, shuttered blues venue in the city’s East Village. Set to open in 2016, the facility will feature a performance theatre, radio station, recording studios and more. In the meantime, the existing NMC facility is a very cool spot to visit, says NMC marketing and public relations manager Mary Kapusta.

The new NMC facility will be a big, beautiful and interesting place, but why should people visit the existing facility?
To visit it now is to sample its future visitor experience. Guided tours of the collection share how unique and important the NMC is in preserving Canada’s musical heritage and how we help artists create new music with our artifacts.

How do musicians access the instruments?
Often our tour guides will invite visitors to play an instrument if they have experience. Musicians can apply to take part in our artist-in-residence program.

What do visitors see and do on an NMC tour?
The heart of NMC is our living collection of rare and unique instruments.

Can visitors watch NMC technicians at work?
Our workshops are active almost daily. Visitors can see staff repairing instruments, but it is not necessarily a part of the tour.

What sorts of instruments and artifacts are on display?
We have a wide range of keyboard and electronic instruments from a 16th century harpsichord to Elton John’s songwriting piano. We also showcase key pieces from the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and The Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame Collection.

What are the flashiest artifacts?
Visitors love to hear the bombastic sounds of our Kimball theatre organ and play one of our theremins. They also love to check out the rhinestone-studded stage costumes and ornate grand pianos.

What’s your favourite item in the collection?
The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. It’s currently under restoration, but it’s super cool.

The centre is also a live music venue. What sort of performances does it feature?
Its Stage One performance space features the RBC Summit Jazz Series and the National Jazz Summit. We also host community events and shows for Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, Calgary Folk Music Festival, Beakerhead and Afrikadey! And more.

The National Music Centre is located at 134 – 11 Ave SE. Public tours take place Sundays at 1:30 pm and 3:00 pm as well as Thursdays at 6:00 pm. Holiday and special themed tours are also offered throughout the year. Reservations are not required. Private tours can also be arranged online at www.nmc.ca. Check website for complete music event schedule. 

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