Since builders broke ground in early 2013, Calgarians have eagerly been awaiting the opening of Studio Bell, Home of the National Music Centre, a 160,000 square-foot hub for music and technology. The NMC has long said that its goal is to tell the story of music in Canada, but what will visitors actually see inside Studio Bell?

The facility will house 22 “stages” (a more interactive and musical way to describe the exhibits) that will take guests beyond what they’d expect in a typical museum. With a mandate to relay tales of music through the exhibits, expose visitors to live musical performances, and to act as an incubator for artists creating new music, any visit to Studio Bell will be multi-sensory and interactive.

“We went down this path of creating these spaces with a theme approach,” says Jesse Moffatt, NMC’s Director of Collections. “A thematic approach allows visitors to experience the story of music in Canada in a non chronological way; in one stage you can have a story about k.d.lang and her contribution to music  right beside the story of Drake  and how he broke into the music industry.”

While Moffatt has a love for every one of the 22 stages, there are a few that he expects will have a particular impact. Here’s a peek of just five exhibits that you’ll be able to see at Studio Bell:

Made in Canada

Inside the made in Canada Stage at National Music Centre

This exhibit focuses on the inventors, industry players, broadcasters, and musicians who have contributed to the innovation of music in Canada. While it’s filled with all kinds of interesting artifacts, two in particular are real coups for NMC: the Robb Wave Organ and the Nimbus 9 recording console.

The Robb Wave Organ was developed in 1927 by Frank Morse Robb in Belleville, Ontario and was the world’s first commercially available electronic organ and there is only one currently in existence. Visitors can’t play it themselves, but kiosks will be set up with samples of the organ’s sound and open source samples will also be available online for musicians and other curious folks to play and create with.

The Nimbus 9 console is another important, though a more recent piece of music history: pulled from Jack Richardson’s Nimbus 9 studio in Toronto, the board was used to record hits by The Guess Who, Peter Gabriel, Alice Cooper and Bob Seeger among many others.

Idols and Icons

Selfies with a Tribe Called Red

This is the stage where you’ll find the memorabilia from all of the musical artists who have helped weave the fabric of Canadian pop culture. From Stompin’ Tom Connors’ stomping board to Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” Ray-Bans to deadmau5’s cheese head, it’s all here for fans to see.

Halls of Fame

Halls of Fame Stage National Music Centre

Studio Bell brings together three important Halls of Fame: the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame Collection, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (the first time that the latter two have ever had a physical home). The Hall of Fame sections of Studio Bell include plaques commemorating each inductee as well as more colourful artifacts, like a suit worn by Hank Snow.

“Hank Snow is recognized in all three halls of fame,” Moffatt says. “If you’re a fan of that Nudie suit with the rhinestones, Hank pulled it off the best.”


Showcase National Music Centre

NMC is constantly acquiring new artifacts, either as loans or as permanent donations. The Showcase stage is where these objects  are first put on display. One of the first highlights to live in the Showcase stage will be a rare 1959 Gibson Les Paul electric guitar that the Guess Who’s Randy Bachman used to write “American Woman.” The guitar had been on loan to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland since 2009 and Moffatt personally went there last year to retrieve it (it was officially handed back to Randy Bachman, who then handed it to Moffatt and NMC). Moffatt says that as more artists learn about NMC, items are coming in at a quicker pace, which means there’ll likely always be something new to see at the Showcase stage.


DIY Instruments at National Music Centre

As NMC acquires new artifacts, many of them need to be preserved  or restored. The Workshop stage will give the public a glimpse at the restoration process of instruments, pieces of technology, textiles, and other items. One of the first major workshop projects is the Electronic Sackbut, a Canadian invention that’s recognized as the first voltage-controlled synthesizer.

On loan from the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, NMC technicians will reverse-engineer the Sackbut so that they can create two replicas of the original instrument for both NMC and the Science and Technology Museum. Once finished, those replicas will be available for guests visiting each facility to play on and explore. 

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