Six Reasons to Visit Studio Bell, Home of the National Music Centre in Calgary

Learn a little more about music in Canada and spend some time with the interactive exhibitions to improve your own musical skills

The Unplugged stage on the fourth level of Studio Bell. Photograph by Leblond Studio Inc.

Music fans have a new reason to put Calgary on their must-visit list. Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, officially opened its doors on Canada Day 2016. Located in the city’s East Village district, Studio Bell is about celebrating Canadian music and recognizing the stories behind it.

The 160,000-square-foot centre has 22 exhibition galleries (referred to as stages) as well as a 300-seat performance hall, classrooms, recording studios and broadcast facilities. Studio Bell’s exhibitions and artifacts can be found over its five levels, and each level has a different theme related to music. 

Here are just six reasons why Studio Bell is well worth a visit when you’re in Calgary. 

Hear music everywhere

Even if you’re not there to see a show in the Performance Hall or listen to a pop-up concert, you’ll hear music. Sound travels—the way the building has been designed means that music performed on the centre’s first floor can be heard clearly on the centre’s fifth floor. 

And the building itself makes music. Along the East Village Skybridge (the walkway that connects the East Block and West Block) are 16 pieces of wood from a piano destroyed in Calgary’s 2013 flood. The piano wires are “played” by the sun. Solar power fills this walkway with a comforting, low drone.

Visit the various Music Halls of Fame

The fifth level of the building is home to three music halls of fame: the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame Collection and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. This is first time that all three halls of fame have had a physical space to occupy, and the first time they’ve been permanently united under one roof. The halls celebrate Canadian musicians who have been recognized as talented leaders, such as Anne Murray, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Daniel Lanois. 

See music memorabilia that spans 450 years of innovation

Studio Bell features many objects from NMC’s collection of more than 2,000 musical artifacts spanning 450 years of technology and innovation. There’s a 1924 Kimball theatre organ—that’s the instrument that was once played to accompany silent movies. (There will be at least one performance on the Kimball each day. Try to take one in—it’ll give you goosebumps.) There’s Natalie MacMaster’s first-ever fiddle. There’s the first voltage-controlled synthesizer from the 1940s (on loan from the Canadian Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa). And there’s Stompin’ Tom Connors’ signed plywood board, which he stomped on as he performed on stage. 

Get a glimpse inside the Studio Bell workshops

As well as collecting and showcasing instruments and musical artifacts, Studio Bell is currently repairing various artifacts. Visit the workshops on the centre’s fourth level to learn how much work is needed to restore items like damaged pianos, and what’s involved in preserving the first and one of the world’s largest multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizers.

Get hands-on with the interactive exhibits

There are a number of exhibits throughout Studio Bell’s five levels where you’re encouraged to touch things and make a little noise, whether it’s with your voice, your body or an instrument. 

On the third level, learn about the power music has over the body and the brain. Exhibits highlight how earworms really work, why music can influence how well we perform our jobs and the science of singing. You can challenge a friend to a high-tech karaoke competition, too—choose your vocal range, pick a Canadian song to sing and let the system tell you how many notes you hit (and how many you missed). 

On level four, learn to play an instrument. Interactive lessons are available for a range of instruments, including piano, acoustic guitar and drums. 

Join the conversation about Canadian music

Visiting Studio Bell will get you talking about the origins and impact of Canadian music. The Speak Up gallery on level three gets visitors thinking about Canadian music that was inspired by political and social conflict. Learn about the biggest moments in Canadian music history, from 1617 to the present, at the Made In Canada gallery. And watch a 15-minute, 360-degree audio-video experience that highlights how the Canadian landscape has influenced Canadian music and culture on the BMO Soundscapes stage. 

For more information on Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, visit studiobell.ca.