Last February the National Music Centre (NMC) broke ground on the corner of 9 Ave. and 4 St. S.E. across from Calgary’s legendary blues palace, The King Eddy. The facility is an extremely ambitious undertaking in terms of its cost, scale, completion and mandate. Nonetheless, the NMC’s president and CEO, Andrew Mosker, who’s been on the forefront driving the project since its inception for well over a decade, has a clear-cut vision and the relentless commitment to bring it all into fruition. At the time of the ground breaking, Mosker spoke with BeatRoute and provided some specifics of what that vision is and how it intends to fill an unique and significant role in unifying the various genres, ethnicities and cultures embedded in Canadian music.
BeatRoute: First off, how did a facility like this land here?
Andrew Mosker: It landed here as a result of two things: first, our predecessor organization, Cantos Music Foundation, was the roots and seeds and foundation of the National Music Centre. So, between 1998 and about 2006, I worked at Cantos and we built the organization from scratch to be, at the time, Canada’s only organization, [except a for some small ones] dedicated to collecting musical antiquities and then building programs around them — innovative public programs and education programs. At the time, there were a lot of organizations like that all over the world, particularly in the United States, but very, very few, less than five, in Canada. So we developed some raw experience and brought in experts from around the world and travelled to learn how other organizations and institutions did this. We created an organization from scratch that, over time in Canada, has become a leading voice in telling stories about music and building historical collections related to music. So that served as a launch pad for re-inventing Cantos Music Foundation to become The National Music Centre.
We decided on our own, just to become The National Music Centre; that was the second part of the question. The fact that Canada didn’t have such a place to tell this story, we felt it was a great opportunity for us to fill that void that was missing in this country, given our incredible legacy related to music. That’s how it came to be and that’s how it landed in Calgary.
BeatRoute: Do you consider the NMC to be an institution, a museum or a… what exactly?
AM: I like to refer to us as a hub and a wheel. People always said the worst thing about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland was that “rock and roll should never be institutionalized,” because it’s a form of rebellious expression and usually when you institutionalize something, you hamper it. You don’t want that to happen. That’s why we didn’t call this a museum. A centre is generic enough. It encompasses all the elements of a museum, the performing arts relative to music but it’s generic and gives us a lot of flexibility.
BeatRoute: What sets you apart from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
AM: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is about rock and roll: that genre of music and that’s it [country, blues and hip-hop are some exceptions]. The National Music Centre is about all music and that’s a major distinction. NMC has something here for classical music, choral music, hip-hop, singer-songwriters and so on and forth. It’s the narrative of a national music story.
We have a second stream that’s a big piece of our story and that’s called global music technologies [which had its start during the Cantos Music Foundation’s days]. Why do we have the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio? Why do we have all these pianos? Harps? Drum machines? Synthesizers? Recording equipment? Microphones? Some of those have something to do with Canada. But largely, they’re a narrative about global music technology. That’s where our collection stream is different than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
We also have a very strong artists-in-residence mandate. It’s a place where Canadian artists from all walks of the genre life can come and advance their own professional abilities as performers, composers, songwriters, educators, recording artists, all of those things. We can do that within the context of our global music technology collection [pieces counting in the hundreds] because the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does not have a collection that artists can come in and use. That is a very deliberate program for us to enable Canadian musicians to be creative; give them tools to help them in their own creative pursuits.
BeatRoute: How have artists-in-residence been making use of the program so far?
AM: We had five artists-in-residence in 2012. All of them come and create. They all do that. Some of them are writing new material from scratch, some of them are doing overdubs to existing material or a combination of both. Not all of them included a performance for the general public as part of their experience, but some of them did, like Kid Koala. It really depends on the artist and where they are in their state of mind. The residencies that we crated last year were self-guided. We certainly encourage them and try to push them in a direction and give them ideas. It really depends on what the artist wants to do and what we can let them do. What we’ve seen so far is a lot of options on how the artist-in-residence program can cater to the unique needs of individual artists, which is really special because then they get a really meaningful experience.
An ongoing initiative for the National Music Centre and its artist-in-residence program is to call out to all musicians across Canada to come and work at the Centre here in Calgary. Interested artists can visit the Musicians section of their website at http://www.nmc.ca/musicians
By B. Simm