In Edmonton, there are several places where you can go and listen to live music, but one of the best is The The Winspear Centre. This is where the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) is housed, and The Winspear put on several concerts and events here throughout the year. One Halloween, I went to a screening of the 1929 silent film of The Phantom of the Opera complete with a live accompanying organ. It was pretty cool.
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 maybe the tour would be a way to pressure people into buy ticket subscriptions for 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. 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 are looking to play 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 memorise some of the songs I played.
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 soundproof – so if someone is practising in the room those outside the room won’t be able to hear anything. Of course, complete soundproofing a room can come with some unexpected problems. Once a famous rock back (whose name rhymes with The Bowling Phones) paid to use the rehearsal room at the Winspear Centre to practice for a concert they were having in Edmonton. Two bouncers stood outside the door to make sure no one outside the band went inside. Three days later when the band was done with the rehearsal space staff went inside and found the room was trashed. Of course going into the room now you wouldn’t know that (some poor custodian probably had a hell of a time cleaning everything up).
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 back in the day 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.
Probably the thing The Winspear is most known for is their large 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 only a few people who can play the pipe organ. The organ has 6551 pipes and was built by Quebec company Orgues Létourneau Limitée. The smallest pipe (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 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 big loss for me. Considering the tour was completely free, included lunch, and was informative and fun it was a great way to spend an hour in downtown Edmonton.
The Francis Winspear Centre for Music (The Winspear Centre) is located at 4 Sir Winston Churchill Square NW in Edmonton. Paid parking is available at the Stanley A. Milner Library Parkade, or
you can take 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.
Have you been on a tour of a concert hall or venue? Tell me about it in the comments below.