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National Music Centre’s new permanent installation: Music & Wellness

By Ramiro Bustamante Torres, June 23 2022

On May 27, the National Music Centre (NMC) in Calgary opened its new permanent exhibition called Music & Wellness. This exhibit explores four themes: Music & Healing, Music & Support, Music & Culture and Music & Memory. Within each of these themes, there are video recordings of experts that share their knowledge and experience with music and how they incorporate it into their professional and personal lives. 

At the start of the exhibit, there is an introduction to each of the topics by a member of the NMC explaining in very broad terms the basics of how music is related to each theme. The explanations were well done and had good examples with them so that anyone with little to no experience with music education can follow along.

The video recordings are in separate islands in the middle of the exhibit room with murals on the walls that have information on the four themes. There is a disconnect between the flow of the videos and the murals, as the colours don’t match and they were not always near each other.

The Music & Healing theme focused on a neurologist’s perspective on treating Parkinson’s Disease. Dr. Bin Hu — a professor at the University of Calgary — explained his project of “Ambulosono” to treat patients with Parkinson’s. A symptom of Parkinson’s is taking short strides when walking, and the project uses a music player connected to the patient’s legs where music will start playing louder with the longer strides they take. Hu explains how patients that listen to their favourite music begin to take longer strides and when treated long term, the brain can adapt to taking longer strides again. 

The Music & Support theme covered music therapy and how music therapists help their patients with goals set by them and their families. Music therapist Jennifer Buchanan shares her experience when she was younger of how she played “The White Cliffs of Dover” for her grandfather who had memory issues and had evoked emotion through his favourite song — which she sings a few verses of as she tells the story.

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The Music & Culture theme is presented by the Knowledge Keeper of the Siksika Nation — Eldon Weasel Child. He explains his role as a knowledge keeper and the importance of song in Blackfoot culture. I highly recommend watching this video since viewers are treated to a song made by Eldon Weasel Child from the Blackfoot Confederacy Chiefs. For this theme, there is a heavy emphasis on community and singing as a sign of appreciation, as well as some stories of healing with music.

The Music & Memory theme has Dr. Daniel Levitin — a neuroscientist from McGill University. He had discovered the eponymous Levitin Effect: when the favourite song of someone is played at different pitches, they can identify the one with the correct pitch most of the time, even without formal musical training. He shares his perspective in studying how the human brain responds to music — whether it is through listening or through participation. Levitin shares the intricacies of the human brain when singing in a group and the power of confidence of an improviser. 

There were accompanying FunDrum music therapy sessions led by JB Music Therapy where participants would join a drumming circle and learn playing techniques for the drums and experience music therapy. This is a staple part of the NMC — bringing interactive aspects to their exhibits. Unfortunately, the last session was on June 11. The NMC has other exhibits that allow people to participate — for example, the makerspace, where you can create your own instrument, or the PLUGGED and UNPLUGGED sections that have various instruments available for people to practice on — which makes the experience interactive. Without the FunDrum sessions, the new exhibit relies on the video recordings to avoid just reading from the walls, making it less interactive. Hopefully more sessions like the FunDrum ones are offered in the future, as I believe they give people a chance to experience the exhibit.

This is a great addition to the existing exhibits with four examples of the powerful impact music can have on people. There are even pop culture examples of this with the new season of Stranger Things or Pixar’s Coco. I have not been to the NMC since pre-pandemic days, but this is a worthwhile exhibit along with their feature exhibit of Canadian-American star Buffy Sainte-Marie.
For more information on this and other exhibits and hours, please visit the NMC website here

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