The Cantos National Music Centre Strikes a Chord

Jean Grand-Maître understands better than most the power of music to bring people together.

girl playing with keyboard
Hands on displays at Cantos
There is something about music that speaks to all of us in an eternal way,” says the Alberta Ballet artistic director and choreographer for the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics – the highest rated television show in Canadian history.

“Music was half the show, if not more,” he says. “Working on the opening ceremonies, it made me realize how music unites Canadians. Fiddling, for example, has reincarnated itself in different shapes and forms across the country and it’s so interesting to examine that.” 

Grand-Maître is a big supporter of the Cantos Music Foundation’s plans to transform its existing museum into a world-class cultural landmark. Located in Calgary's East Village, Cantos' new National Music Centre will incorporate the historic King Edward Hotel in a striking architectural monument that will serve to educate and inspire across Canada and beyond.

The NMC, still in its planning stages, will house many attractions including spaces for the world-renowned Cantos Music Collection, which includes keyboards, electronic instruments and vintage recording equipment. Exhibition gallery space for Canada’s national music collection will feature the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame Collection among other items that chronicle Canada’s national music story.

Rendering of the Cantos National Music Centre
The NMC will also have two recording studios, a radio broadcast studio, a restaurant and bar with live music, space for exhibitions and rehearsals artists-in-residence and a wide range of public and education programs.  

“Cantos has the pride and passion for music to make this a reality,” says Grand-Maître, who has toured the existing Cantos collection in downtown Calgary many times. “When I got the commission to create Love Lies Bleeding (a ballet based on Elton John’s music), I immediately thought of Elton John’s white piano at Cantos,” he says. 

Grand-Maître has also worked with Joni Mitchell and will soon work with Sarah McLachlan creating ballets for their music. “They have this interest to experiment with these artistic disciplines, these new ways of interpreting their music and it surprises and delights them because they see their life’s work being represented in a new way.”

That sort of innovative thinking will also be represented in the National Music Centre, the first project of its kind in the world. The centre will be on the same must-see list as other music-based exhibits around the world such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, the Experience Music Project in Seattle, and the Cité de la Musique in Paris.

This spectacular centre will be built just east of downtown Calgary as part of the exciting redevelopment of the East Village. The historic neighbourhood at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers is home to Fort Calgary and more than ten decades of Calgary’s story. The centre will encompass the King Edward Hotel, which was built at the turn of the last century and has experienced Calgary’s history first hand: bootlegging whiskey during prohibition, engaging in bawdy house activities, and in more recent decades, becoming one of Western Canada’s most beloved blues bars.  

From ranch hands to rogues, from blues musicians to their passionate fans, the "Eddy" has been home to some of Calgary’s most colourful characters. 

crowd outside the King Eddy
Music lovers outside the King Eddy
Vacant since 2004, the King Eddy will once again be a venue for live music, perhaps as early as the summer of 2012. The rest of the National Music Centre will take four years to complete. The 110,000 square foot centre will be built up around the King Eddy, preserving and celebrating the hotel as the soul of the East Village and cornerstone of the new complex. 

It’s a perfect fit, says Grand-Maître, because the little hotel on 9th Avenue S.E. (originally called Atlantic Avenue) has been witness to more than 100 years of history, and it’s that history that helps create great music

Kirby Sewell
Celebrating live music
“You need a rich folklore for music to develop,” he says. “It’s like a fertile earth that things just grow out of, and certainly when you look at the amount of great composers and singers from kd lang to Joni Mitchell, who were born in Alberta, you realize that it’s the folklore that often enriches and inspires the music scene in a city.” 

Grand-Maître is looking forward to touring the new centre, hearing the music and feeling its power. “You can’t put words to it, you can just let it touch your soul. It goes beyond the reasoning mind, and I think that’s why music has been half my life, choreographing to music,” he says. 

“It’s the supreme poetry of the human soul.”

And soon it will play on at the National Music Centre in Calgary’s East Village.

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