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In Edmonton, there are several places where you can go and listen to live music, but one of the best is The Winspear Centre. The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) plays here. The Winspear also puts on several concerts and events throughout the year. One Halloween, I went to a screening of the 1929 silent film The Phantom of the Opera, which had a man playing the organ as a musical accompaniment. It was pretty cool.
Free Winspear Centre Tour with Lunch
A few months ago I took one of the free guided lunch tours that The Winspear Centre offers to the public. These tours are held during the regular ESO season (September to June) and happen two or three times per month. While I thought this might be a way to pressure people into buying ticket subscriptions for their concert series at The Winspear it wasn’t. It was just a nice, albeit short (about an hour) tour of this fantastic music venue. Plus it came with free lunch, sandwiches from Press’d and coffee and tea. Score! The tour started after our group, of about 10, had lunch.
The Music Room
We were first taken to the music room where all the sheet music for the ESO is stored. Whenever the ESO plays a concert at The Winspear Centre, they need to get the rights to play the music. Sometimes getting the copyright might be easy, but other times it could be difficult. There are several shelves and filing cabinets available with music that the ESO has paid for. If the ESO doesn’t own the music they want to play then they can rent the sheet music. The music librarian is responsible for putting bowing marks (music connotations) on the sheet music for every player. I think my music nerdiness is kicking in, but I found this fascinating because it’s not just putting marks on for one musician, but for like 60. I also thought it was pretty amazing that the musicians only get the sheet music one week before a performance. I played the piano for 10 years, and it took me months to learn and memorize some of the songs I played.
The Rehearsal Room
Next, we were taken to a rehearsal room for the ESO, which can also be rented out as a venue space for meetings, corporate parties, and other events. The rehearsal room is completely soundproof. If someone is practising inside the rehearsal room, then anyone outside won’t be able to hear anything. Soundproofing a place can come with some unexpected problems though. Once a famous rock band (whose name rhymes with The Bowling Phones) paid to use the Winspear’s rehearsal room to practice for a concert they were having. Two bouncers stood outside the door to make sure no one outside the band went inside. Three days later staff went into the room and found it had been trashed. Going in there now you’d never know that this had happened. Some poor custodians probably had a hell of a time cleaning everything up.
The Main Stage
For the next (and final portion of this tour) we went to the main stage for The Winspear Centre. Like the soundproof rehearsal room, The Winspear was designed with sound in mind and making sure everything in the concert hall sound spectacular. The Winspear is actually located right above the light rail transit line for Edmonton, but you would never know that going into the concert hall. You don’t hear the rumble of the train, or the dinging announcements stating “Next stop Stadium Station.” Speaking from personal experience (I got to sing at The Winspear Centre years ago with my high school choir class) the acoustics/sound at The Winspear is fantastic. No weird echoes, or reverb. Another thing I love about how The Winspear was designed is the seating. I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the house.
The Davis Concert Organ
Probably the thing The Winspear is most known for is their massive pipe organ (The Davis Concert Organ) that it has on the stage. The pipe organ has only been played a few times in concert because there are just a few people who can play the pipe organ. The organ has 6551 pipes. It was built by the Quebec company Orgues Létourneau Limitée. The smallest (in diameter) is 1/2 inch (1.27cm) wide, and the largest is 16 inches (40.64cm) wide. Despite the fact, we couldn’t hear it played on the tour the pipe organ is massive and quite impressive.
The tour usually includes going to the backstage area, but we were all too interested in the pipe organ and the concert hall, so we didn’t have time for that. I’ve been backstage before, so it wasn’t a significant loss for me. Considering the tour was completely free, and included lunch it was a fun and exciting way to spend an hour in downtown Edmonton.
Things You Should Know
The Francis Winspear Centre for Music (The Winspear Centre) is located at 4 Sir Winston Churchill Square NW, Edmonton, Alberta. Paid parking is available at the Stanley A. Milner Library Parkade, or you can take the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and get off at Churchill Station across the street from The Winspear. Free tours, including those for small groups, are available from September to June. Please contact The Winspear Centre in advance for more information.
If you are visiting Edmonton you can book your hotel here.
Have you been on a tour of a concert hall or venue?
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