If CBC declares you to have the best job in music, you’re doing something right.
We’ve already told you about Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre (NMC) and its new facility. It’s set to put Calgary in the spotlight like never before, and become a total game-changer in the Canadian music scene when it opens its door this summer. More than just a museum, the NMC will become a hub for all things music-related.
Front and centre of the initiative is Jesse Moffatt, the NMC’s Director of Collections, who has spent 15 years growing NMC’s collection and developing methods to use historical and iconic artifacts to create new music.
His job had taken him throughout the world in search of these irreplaceable musical relics for the collection. But when at home, in his free time, he’s an artist himself, and one with a personal passion for creating beautiful public pianos for the city of Calgary.
We caught up with Moffatt to hear more about his musical world.
Describe your job in a nutshell.
As the Director of the Collections for the National Music Centre, I’m essentially responsible for the collecting, preservation, and care of all things related to collections.
What is your typical day like?
One of the things that attracted me to this job is that no two days are ever alike. I could be dealing with ensuring the best control management to ensure the artifacts remain properly preserved, right down to talking to well-known figures in music to see what they’d like to donate to the collection. It varies from day to day.
They say you have one of the best jobs in music; do you agree?
I am honoured that CBC did that piece. Yeah, I think it’s a different aspect. It’s more behind the scenes of the music industry. We feel like we’re responsible for researching, collecting, and preserving part of Canada’s musical heritage. So we have big shoes to fill; but myself and my team are entirely up for the challenge.
What are some of the most exciting things in the collection?
The collection has two streams. One is a stream of music technology; and our approach to collecting is different than most cultural institutions in that not everything we collect is going to be static or in exhibits. When we go to the ROM or the MET, or something of the sort, an artifact has lived its life and it comes into the institution, then it’s the responsibility of the curatorial department to disseminate information about it. The conservation department will make sure it maintains its historic value and relevance by caring for it in a proper environment. We do all of that, but instruments, in our opinion, were meant to be used, so we have this living component. Even though this historic equipment has lived this really interesting life through events and individuals, it will continue to live on through NMC’s Artist in Residence program, which allows artists to come in and use artifacts to create new work. It’s like having Ansel Adams’s camera, giving it to an artist and saying, ‘this was used to create work, now you have the opportunity to do so too.’
What do you think Studio Bell will do for Calgary?
It’s more than just Calgary; it’s a game-changer for Canada. It will be a catalyst and platform for all these stories to be told. It’s also a gathering place for people to create new work. Plus, we have a large range of educational programing. Nothing like it exists in Canada.
What aspect of Studio Bell are you most excited for?
That it’s finally being realized. I started here in 2000, when we began feasibility studies to see what this small museum could become. We discovered that there was no other institution to tell such stories. People will be blown away by something that grew organically and is now there.
What’s the most memorable celebrity moment you’ve had?
I had a memorable moment with Randy Bachman. He was quite protective of his 1959 American Woman guitar. I flew down to Cleveland to pick up the guitar, which was previously on display at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. He and his crew were in town performing so they asked to meet at the venue to give an official handing off to the National Music Centre. When Randy went to hand me the guitar, he pretended he was going to drop it. My conservation training kicked in and I jumped in frantically to save it. He just looked at me and smiled. There are the celebrities, but I love dealing with the collectors because they are so passionate about what they collect. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Europe to some incredible homes.
Can we expect any more of your piano art installations?
They are in my studio now. Most of my time is dedicated to NMC and our move into Studio Bell, but I try to give back to the community as much as possible. The Calgary Downtown Association has commissioned me to take it one step further this year. We will have these installations that will still function as a musical instrument but are also art installations and a conversation piece. One in particular is a piano built to look like a house; it opens and it’s a book exchange.
Who would have to be on your ultimate Canadian playlist?
It would be the jazz master himself, my all-time favourite, Oscar Peterson. I put him on after a long day.
What’s your favourite place to travel outside of Calgary?
The first time I went out east to Nova Scotia it opened my eyes to a whole new world.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I can’t see myself doing anything else.