National Music Centre – Calgary, Alberta - Atlas Obscura

National Music Centre

Eclectic musical collection ranging from hurdy gurdies and orphicas to the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. 


Tracing the story of music from 200 BCE to the present, the Cantos Music Foundation holds hundreds of musical artifacts. Among the foundation’s curiosities are one of the earliest pianos built in North America, as well as several generations of vintage electronic music equipment that makes Cantos the largest synth museum in Canada. Most of the exhibited instruments are able to be played by visitors.

Cantos has a growing collection of over 650 keyboard instruments and electronic equipment that represents the evolution of keyboard instruments from the pipe organ to modern synthesizers. The vintage synths in the electronics gallery include a wall of Moog synthesizers and a rare Acrylic Mellotron M400, like the that used in the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.” It is one of only three in the world, having been stolen from Mellotron Digital in 1986 and reappearing in 1990 in “Dr. Funkenstein’s Music Lab” in Dallas. It eventually came to Cantos in 2002. There is also an ARP 2500 Synthesizer, the instrument used to talk to the aliens in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” A Buchla Box, made by synthesizer pioneer and Merry Prankster Don Buchla, was used by author Ken Kesey on the Further bus’ PA system during the Pranksters’ psychedelic road trip.

Antique instruments include a hurdy gurdy, an Orphica (an early portable keyboard), a Kimball Theatre Organ from the age of silent movies, and a Zumpe Square Piano, probably the first ever made by Johannes Zumpe in 1766, who made instruments accessible to the middle class.

Although not currently on display, the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio is part of the Cantos collection. The movable studio was used to record several of The Rolling Stones’ singles and albums, as well as by musicians like by Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Lou Reed, and Bob Marley.

Unfortunately the 2013 floods of Southern Alberta caused considerable damage to the Cantos Collection. The National Music Center will house the Cantos Music Foundation Collection when it is completed in 2015. 

Obscura Day location: April 9, 2011.

Community Contributors
Added by

February 3, 2011

Make an Edit Add Photos
From Around the Web