As I mentioned in my travel post on the gorgeous Betty Lou’s Library, whenever I am in Calgary, my friend and I make an effort to experience some live music as a love of music and a fascination of how it wields its magical power is what united us at university many years ago. So therefore, it hopefully come as no surprise that when I was reading up on places to visit in Calgary I knew I absolutely had to head straight to Studio Bell, National Music Centre.
A stunning building located in downtown Calgary, with construction starting in 2013, Studio Bell was finally opened to the public on Canada Day (1 July) 2016. The building serves multiple purposes to Calgary’s thriving music and arts scene. When I first visited Calgary I honestly had no comprehension of just how vibrant the cultural scene in this small city is. I think being from London I take for granted the fact that music, theatre, museums and galleries are all just a moment away and snobbishly assume that no other city could compete. However, the joy of Calgary and in particular the joy of its music scene is how intimidate a huge part of it is. Studio Bell is testament to the immense impact of Calgary’s music scene on Canada’s wider cultural landscape and also offers the city the chance to be a real cultural hub moving forward. The building is home to incredible instrument restoration projects, four Canadian Music Halls of Fame, several live performance venues as well as interactive exhibits to offer people the chance to experience and in many cases actually play instruments they may not otherwise have encountered or had a chance to explore. It also offers an opportunity for musicians to further develop their skills, and many chances for musical education from a basic level right up to intensive workshops.
Can you tell by now that I am absolutely in love with this place?
Studio Bell Mission Statement:
“To give Canada a place that amplifies the love, sharing and understanding of music.”
From its architecture (it’s based on the design of a pipe organ) to its welcoming atmosphere and relentless and unashamed music nerdiness, Studio Bell immediately felt like home to me when I ventured through the doors. Admission for an adult is $20 (CAD), however Seniors and Students can buy a ticket for $15.50 (CAD) which works out at current rates as just £9, let me tell you it is worth it.
The exhibits within Studio Bell are spread out around the building, and my top tip to you would be to check out the timings of the daily tours and demonstrations that happen so that you can try and pace your visit accordingly. For example, the enormous Kimball Theatre Organ located on Level Three of the building is demonstrated a handful of times throughout the day and you absolutely will not want to miss it. It is undoubtedly one of the most impressive instruments I have ever witnessed being played, and is one of the largest in the NMC collection. During its demonstration it truly causes the entire building to reverberate, and if you weren’t moved by music before, then you definitely will be after experiencing that! By demonstrating the instrument’s capabilities live in front of you, the initially inanimate objects spring to life and suddenly are full of emotion. Who knew that a simple organ (okay, they’re not simple instruments I have spent years trying to work out the intricacies of how organs are built and still am baffled by mot of it) could suddenly be filled with love, humour, fear or anger? It’s remarkable and brilliant all at once. There aren’t many of these instruments left in working order around the world, so it’s definitely a brilliant opportunity to see one in action.
“What if a visit to the museum was as exciting as going to a music festival?”
Studio Bell’s various permanent exhibits include the chance to listen to music and begin to understand its impact on your emotional state, the chance to record your own music and develop a deeper understanding of the power of the voice, the chance to try your hand at playing bass or piano, the chance to walk through the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and witness iconic outfits (including clothing owned by everyone from Michael Buble to Avril Lavigne!) and also to witness rare and incredibly delicate instruments. You can even peer through the glass at the team of restoration experts as they work on bringing so many of these gorgeous instruments back to life.
You then have the mulitple changing exhibits to explore and of course, the incredible King Eddy, one of the most iconic music venues in Canada which has been painstakingly restored and opened as a pub and venue once again. You even have the opportunity to see the mobile recording studio used by none other than The Rolling Stones. Studio Bell is brimming with musical knowledge, instruments and legend, all under one roof! Plus, it offers stunning views of downtown Calgary as well!
I went into Studio Bell expecting to spend maybe 90-minutes wandering around the exhibits and seeing some cool instruments. Well over three hours later I found myself grinning from ear to ear, my passion for everything musical completely reignited and my love of music psychology just absolutely cemented forever. If you’ve got a musical bone in your body, even just a musical eyelash, and you are in the Calgary area, head for Studio Bell (abiding by current social distancing and face covering laws as you do so) and just immerse yourself in the magic of music.