Home Profiles Studio Bell, Home of the National Music Centre, Opens in Calgary’s East...

Studio Bell, Home of the National Music Centre, Opens in Calgary’s East Village


“Music is a powerful tool,” says Andrew Mosker, president and CEO of the National Music Centre (NMC). “It is pleasant to listen to, relaxing, inspiring, can be used as a community builder, but it can also be good for business.”

Leading up to the grand opening of Studio Bell, Mosker has been interviewed many, many times about the history, the design, the incredible features and amenities NMC will provide, but he also understands the economic impact it will have on this city.

It is estimated that NMC will attract $10 million in direct spending to this city; not bad for an idea that sprang from the dream of a young man who after realizing early on that his love of playing piano might not be his best career path, has done so much to help others live and work in Calgary while developing a new economic stream.

Mosker earned his undergraduate history major at Concordia University and while working at CIRL 650 AM campus radio made up his mind to make a living in music. He came out West and studied at Grant MacEwan College for his prestigious performance degree in jazz piano.

But then he came to Calgary – the right time and the right place – when the Calgary International Organ Festival and the Honens International Piano Competition were sharing space in Customs House, and there were talks by the board of the organ festival developing and expanding an annual program. On the advice of Irene Besse, it had purchased two collections of organs and pianos, one from a Revelstoke, B.C. collector and the other from Long Island, New York State.

Mosker was hired to look after the collections in 1998, being informed that the board was not sure what to do with them but he should build a program around them.

The organ festival wound down in 2002, but the foundation decided to put its money into what had become known as the Cantos Music Museum – and Mosker, who had been working hard with a bare-bones budget in two floors of disjointed space was able to think big about how he could develop and support a broader base where music could thrive.

His vision was to build a ‘Music City’ here.

He had a million dollars for his operating budget, which meant he could employ a program manager and begin to hold exhibitions, the popular Silent Movie Monday program, and hold performances in a small space in Customs House where it was possible to cram in around 120 people.

And meanwhile the appreciation and importance of music was already being encouraged to some 10,000 schoolchildren each year on organized tours that were a real hit.

Cantos was also busy adding to its collections.

Jesse Moffatt, director of collections, says, “As a collecting institution, we are dedicated to collecting, preserving and researching Canada’s musical heritage. We are motivated to make music history accessible and continuing. The goal is to provide the audience with the fullest experience of music possible with our ‘living’ musical instruments.”

Today, NMC stewards one of the most impressive music collections in the world, spanning over 450 years of music technology and innovation.

Much has been added to the original two collections bringing the current number of objects in its care to over 2,000. And by this time not limited to 19th century pianos; it now includes the Rolling Stones Mobile Recording Studio that was used to record albums by Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, as well as the Rolling Stones.

You will see Randy Bachman’s 1959 Gibson Les Paul “American Woman” guitar and the white songwriting piano on which Elton John composed his first five albums.

And from a serious Los Angeles collector, Cantos acquired his entire electronic collection, including the EMU modular synthesizer used to create special effects for the Francis Ford Coppola movie, Apocalypse Now. The owner agreed to spend time at Cantos to supervise the installation of his artifacts – and liked Calgary so much he bought a house just outside the city.

But with more pieces to display and more people to care for them, as well as a growing number of programs, exhibitions and tours, there was a need to find a bigger home.

Mosker was given the OK to look for a better space and he concluded that the best solution was to build its own structure, designed specifically for its needs.

He looked at many including space at Mount Royal University and the eight-storey tower planned for the site where the York Hotel had been demolished adjacent to the new Bow Tower.

His research took him to a number of other cities and what attracted him most was the way old neighbourhoods had been rejuvenated thanks to music providing places of pilgrimage.

A good example is the Museum of American Soul Music in the former Stax record label building in Memphis where the sounds of Southern gospel music can be enjoyed in a 1902 Mississippi Delta church reassembled in the museum. Next door is a music academy that has also helped to bring many music lovers and tourists to Memphis.

It didn’t take long for Mosker to decide the King Eddy that had been an oasis for music lovers from all walks of life was the ideal spot for his new home.

And he began to think that as there was no national facility for Canadian music, Cantos should be reinvented as a national story on an authentic site. A centre for live music, a better home for the collection, a recording studio, public programming and lectures.

The board was enthused about his dream and set about fundraising in a big way.

The city agreed to sell the King Eddy but the owner of the gas station to the rear could not be persuaded to include his lot.

Fortunately Calgary Municipal Land Corporation had been established and redevelopment of East Village was well into a new planning phase.

But it had yet to convince anyone to kick-start any type of construction and Mosker’s negotiations with its board resulted in NMC securing the land to the east of the King Eddy and thanks to funding from three levels of government, each offering $25 million, he was able to go ahead with an international expression of interest to design the new building.

Of 66 responses from around the world, whittled down to 12, followed by an RFP to a select five, Portland-based Allied Works Architecture was selected.

The result is what Allied Works principal Brad Cloepfil describes as, “A powerful instrument that exists to emanate music and light. Nine towers form the body of the building: walls clad in terracotta rise in subtle curves that merge, part and intertwine, modelled by light, gravity and acoustics.”

At the grand opening on July 1, after almost 18 years of hard work and promotion, a very proud NMC president and CEO Andrew Mosker could boast of a dream come true that already has become a national music industry treasure as home to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame Collection, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In total Studio Bell has been completed with 160,000 square feet of new construction offering 22,000 square feet of exhibition space and galleries plus a 4,000-square-foot, 300-seat performance hall, acoustic and sound labs and media centre.

And the economic impact is being felt in many different ways.

CKUA Radio, the oldest public broadcaster in Canada, has signed a 10-year lease in the King Eddy, located on the west block of Studio Bell and Cafe Rosso is the first retailer to take space.

NMC became an early launch pad to promote East Village; it attracted a $10-million sponsorship from major contributor Bell; the visitor market is expected to be boosted by 150,000 per year; and it employs a full-time staff of 40 plus 350 eager volunteers, a number that is expected to climb to over 700 by year-end.

The city will get a lot of traction from NMC, and hotels, taxis and restaurants will benefit greatly.

And ‘Music City’ supporters will be keen to see the King Eddy bar reopen for live music and as a character event space bringing people into a rejuvenated, healthy and exciting East Village.