Massey Hall’s sound museum makes quarantine fun

Even though it's closed, you can recreate an audio experience of being at the historic concert venue


Even though Toronto musical landmark Massey Hall has been closed for its revitalization project since July 2018, its rich archive of concerts and interviews can help pass the time during the coronavirus pandemic. And don’t forget to read NOW’s cover story on the legendary concert hall.

But there’s another aspect to the musical institution that not many know about: its sound museum. Besides being a lot of fun, it’s a great resource for learning about how to pay attention to the sounds in one’s everyday life. 

Before Massey Hall closed, the institution collected sounds from practically every inch of its space – from the famous stage to its stairwells, the box office booth and even the lower level washrooms and bar area. 

The 100 clips include things like the playful sound of a ballbearing rolling across the stage floor to the haunting chime-like sound that indicates intermission is ending. One of my favourites is the sound of the old-style ticket window closing. Another is that cool zap from ticket scanners. 

One sound very few people have heard during more than a month of quarantine involves the rush of water from a public washroom tap, the chugging pull of a paper towel dispenser and – wait for it – the whoosh of a hand drier. Ah, memories.

The sounds are available to download so you can use them in your own projects. Or you can test friends or family by quizzing them and seeing if they could identify the sound of someone ripping gaffer tape off the MH stage.

The museum comes with an at-home activity guide, encouraging students to pay attention to the sounds in their daily lives and possibly create their own sound museum. It also introduces students to the work of groundbreaking Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, often credited as the first person to use the term “soundscape,” whose works often use environmental sounds and take place at natural locations.

Another all-ages activity consists of three Massey Hall colouring sheets available to download and print. In one there’s room for you to draw yourself performing on the stage itself in another, you can try to find the right shade of red to colour in the building’s iconic brick exterior.

Maybe you can draw in some audience members too, a hopeful reminder that before long we can all gather together to enjoy live music.

@glennsumi

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