Pianos to Power Chords: The history of music in southern Alberta

Monday 20th, March 2017 / 17:56
By Courtney Faulkner

Mining the rich history of music in southern Alberta with respect to the cultures that shaped it.
Photo from the Galt Museum & Archives

LETHBRIDGE – “Can you imagine a day without music? It surrounds us each and every day – almost everywhere we go, we can have easy access to music in our lives. But it wasn’t always this way.

Over 100 years ago when Lethbridge was just becoming a city, music was much more rare. You had to own an instrument, or know someone who could play one, just to have access to music. Before radios became common, you would likely only hear music during a concert or a parade, which meant that music was a driving force that helped bring our community together.”

This excerpt on the “From Pianos to Power Chords” exhibit, an intricate display of historical photographs, objects and stories connected to the history of music in southern Alberta currently showing at the Galt Museum & Archives until April 30, can be a challenge to conceptualize in a time where music is so common it’s nearly taken for granted.

“Back then it wasn’t as easy to hear music,” says Tyler Stewart, guest curator for the exhibit. “Really, you can think of it being a luxury.”

Tyler Stewart, whose passion for music and love of the Lethbridge community brought him to curate the show, wanted people to feel connected to history, and has done an excellent job of fostering this through his “musician map,” a web of bands and their members visually illustrated by local “Slaughterhouse Slough” cartoonist Eric Dyck.

“People seeing themselves in the exhibition was super important to me in developing the whole thing,” says Stewart. “They’re still part of history, and it’s important to me to show people that history is also right now.”

“Watching 10 people or more in the community on a snowy Sunday afternoon standing around discussing and analyzing this band map… I thought this is so cool that we are having this dialogue about the crazy interconnections in the music community.”

“When you take a topic like music that people connect to in so many different ways I think it makes people really aware of where they fit into in that story,” says Aimee Benoit, curator of the Galt Museum & Archives.

“Museums can provide a forum for social interaction, and we share our own experiences with each other when we’re experiencing an exhibit,” says Benoit. “I think that’s an opportunity for people to get to know each other better.”

“It really is about who we are now, and it’s about having conversations about who we want to be in the future as a community.”

The history of music in southern Alberta is far reaching.

“It was super important to me to show that music existed in southern Alberta before it was ever called southern Alberta, and that started with the Blackfoot people,” says Stewart. “If we want to reconcile colonial history with the original Blackfoot people who this land still belongs to, things like this are a way to keep this dialogue going.”

“What I like about this exhibit is it adds to the conversation,” says Ira Provost, a Blackfoot musician and educator from the Piikani First Nation who worked with Stewart to curate the history of music in the Blackfoot community. “I hope that it becomes a naturalized narrative where it’s like if you’re going to talk about anything in the development in this area you need to have a perspective from the Blackfoot community.”

“The Blackfoot have been in what’s now known as southern Alberta forever. We say for a millennia. We’ve always had music a part of our way of life, and it still is,” says Provost. “We’ve used music as a community gathering tool for years. As the southern Alberta music scene has grown, it has in the [Blackfoot] communities as well.”

“It’s not small, it’s not insignificant… And I like that it’s being inclusive. I like that it’s creating that awareness to that understanding.”

“Myself, as a musician, I always found that music really broke a lot of barriers. All the musicians I’ve ever played with, there was no race barrier,” says Provost. “We just get together and jam.”

“Music definitely has that capacity to bring people together to have a shared experience,” says Benoit.

“From Pianos to Power Chords” is showing at the Galt Museum & Archives until April 30.