Calgary’s National Music Centre contains an extraordinary hoard of rare keyboard instruments, spanning harpsichords to modular synthesizers. Brandon Smith is the Programs Assistant for the non-profit organization. Guiding tours, coordinating public music education programs, and working with the artist in residence program are just a few of the tasks Brandon is responsible for. Team Freq caught up with Brandon at the National Music Centre where he enthusiastically told us about his dream job.
Freq: What’s special about the National Music Centre?
Brandon Smith: Nowhere else in the world is there a more complete and diverse collection of keyboard instruments. Not only are there one-of-a-kind gems and rarities, many of [the keyboards] are playable and maintained on a regular basis. There are other music museums out there, other keyboard museums even, but for the most part, they have the feel of a stuffy old institution, [and the instruments] are behind glass. [The National Music Centre’s] mandate is ”Amplifying the Love, Sharing and Understanding of music,” which really resonates with me.
Freq: What do you love about your job?
Brandon: It’s not the same thing every day. Working for a not for profit organization, your goals are different. At the end of the day it’s not so much a question of are we making money, but rather, are we accomplishing what we set out to do? Are we providing the community with the best possible National Music Centre that we can be? It’s a really interesting challenge to keep the place working with the resources we have and the few staff that we have. It’s not a boring job. I’m only at my desk a couple of hours a day. The rest of the time I’m upstairs in the gallery touring people around and helping the technicians lug pianos around.
Freq: What’s your favorite instrument in the collection?
Brandon: It changes. I’d say right now… hmmm… that’s a tough one. Right now I’m quite enamored with an instrument called the Rhodes Chroma, which was the last synthesizer a company called Arp ever produced, before they went bankrupt. The Rhodes Chroma has a mystique about it, because of its rarity. There are perhaps 3000 of them ever made. It’s one of those instruments built for musicians. I think people can lose sight of that, when they see all of this electronic gear and they maybe go up to a synthesizer and it makes a lot of cool sounds people may wonder, “Where’s the human factor in that? How does a musician use this as a tool rather than a machine that makes just makes funny noises?” The Rhodes Chroma was used by Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock — It’s got a really killer sound.
The NMC is located at 134 11 Avenue SE. Construction of the new NMC begins in late 2012. Visit www.nmc.ca for information on tours, workshops, music programs and the artist in residency program.
By: Paul Brooks