Music and Technology at Studio Bell

February 05, 2016

Imagine being a fourth grade student with a casual interest in music. The extent of your musical interest includes a few songs that you’ve heard on the radio and whatever your friends are into. Maybe you were gifted some guitar lessons for your birthday, but soon you lost interest.

One day, a special guest comes to your class, bringing with them a box of computer tablets and a wealth of musical knowledge. The guest shows the class how to sample and create their own musical compositions, discussing the basic history of recorded music and technology along the way, and allowing you to experiment on your own tablet.

As a student, your young mind has just been blown, your head now filled with dreams of becoming the next David Foster or Drake.

That evening at home, you download some free apps and start making your own songs; you might even pick up that guitar and carry on with a reinvigorated passion.

The special guest in your classroom, in this scenario, is an educator for the National Music Centre (NMC). These educators are a vital part in NMC’s efforts to use technology to bring the stories of music in Canada to students and the public—through outreach activities in the classroom, as well as through programs inside Studio Bell.

NMC Education Outreach Coordinator, Natalie Marsh, leads an in-school education program. Credit:

NMC Education Outreach Coordinator, Natalie Marsh, leads an in-school education program.

“People have become accustomed to using technology to listen, create, and share music,” says NMC’s Education Outreach Coordinator Natalie Marsh, who is responsible for bringing NMC’s collection to people across Canada.

Using technology and music together, Marsh and the rest of the exhibitions team are developing fun ways to deliver the visitor experience at Studio Bell. This responsibility has given her lots to think about in regards to how music and technology can complement one another.

For NMC education and exhibitions staff, this means finding ways to enhance the visitor experience using technology without taking away from the story of music.

“Throughout the digital interactive development process, we have intentionally considered questions such as ‘How will visitors react to this space?’ and, ‘What is the learning objective in this space?’ and then we developed software or digital tools to create authentic, hands-on and, hopefully, memorable experiences for visitors,” says Marsh.

NMC's Voice exhibition uses video projection to show how our voice can be used to make music.

NMC’s Voice exhibition uses video projection to show how our voice can be used to make music.

Visitors to Studio Bell will find themselves surrounded by rare, one-of-a-kind instruments, like a functional virginal from the 16th Century, or a massive 1960s era Luther Moog, while at the same time having the opportunity to explore music venues across Canada via touch screens, or listen to curated playlists on a pair of headphones.

As well, students from across the country, whether they’re in Calgary or Nunavut, will get to experience the collection through NMC’s Roadcase Program, a unique initiative that takes artifacts and stories from NMC’s collection and packs them into a guitar road case, which looks more accustomed to traveling with a rock band than an education toolkit.

Ideas like this will be paired with interactive projects currently being developed by people like Marsh, in order to give students from coast to coast to coast a chance to experience NMC’s program offerings and digital exhibitions.

Calgary kindergarten students created a digital story about their school, which is located on a C-Train platform, as part of the ATB Financial Alberta Stories Roadcase program.

“Technology in NMC’s programs and exhibitions will be used as a tool to explore music across curriculum for school groups, or for visitors, to explore content in our exhibitions at a deeper level,” says Marsh.

Instead of just being able to look at that 16th century virginal, visitors will be able to plug into a tablet that features archival recordings of the instrument being played. Every step of the way, visitors will be able to look, listen, and sometimes even touch certain items, depending on their rarity and condition.

A significant part of this experience will be NMC’s staff of frontline employees, trained musicians, and educators, who will be able to take the collection and present it in a unique way. Upon hearing and seeing an artifact, a visitor may decide to take a guided tour to learn more about that artifact and any correlated items in NMC’s collection.

If a guided tour isn’t your thing, you can always check out NMC’s new online collections database, which is currently in development and set to be launched shortly after Studio Bell opens to the public this summer. This is just another example of how visitors will be able to dive deeper into exhibitions.

Most importantly, Studio Bell and NMC will seek to immerse all Canadians in the stories and history of music in Canada. Canadians now have a place to discover all that they ever wanted to know about the culture of music in their home country.

About the Author

Nathaniel Schmidt

Born and raised in the Comox Valley, Nathaniel is a composer, teacher, writer, and reluctant pianist who has been freelancing in Calgary in various capacities for over seven years. He freely admits to enjoying everything Sting has done pre-1998 (including Dune).

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