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Mining for Music

Two seemingly unrelated events kicked off in Canada this Monday: Canadian Music Week and National Mining Week. On the surface, they look to be reaching out to quite different audiences, but if we dig deeper, we see that one cannot exist without the other.

Man playing a saxophone in front of a sunset.

Sitting in the sun at an outdoor jazz concert this summer, mining may be the furthest thought from your mind, but an incredible range of metals and minerals are needed to create the sounds of a concert. From the bodies of the brass instruments to the guitar strings and from the frame of the stage itself to the electricity needed to power the amplification and lighting systems, the materials we mine from the earth are necessary to make the music we love.

The sound of a trombone, for example, is largely determined by the way the air moves from the musician's vibrating lips through the flared bell at the end of the instrument. The shape of that bell is important, but so is the material used to create it. According to the website of Michael Rath Custom Trombones in England, "The higher the copper content in the material, the darker and warmer is the sound."

Woman playing a trumpet.

Brass is an alloy of copper with some amount of zinc added to it. Trombone bells can be made from yellow brass (70% copper, 30% zinc), gold brass (85% copper, 15% zinc), red brass (90% copper, 10% zinc) and nickel silver. Each material has a distinct impact on the tone and clarity of the sound produced by the instrument.

String instruments, such as guitars, violins and pianos, have bodies constructed mainly from wood, but the strings themselves have evolved from the traditional stretched animal gut to nylon and metal. Steel, a combination of iron ore and coal melded under intense heat, forms the core of most metal strings, which tend to produce a sharper and brighter sound than those made of animal and plant materials.

Man playing a guitar on a stage.

In addition to the instruments themselves and the musicians who play them, of course, it is often the work done behind the scenes that can make or break your outdoor concert experience. Was the stage high enough and positioned so everyone has a clear view? Was the sound sharp and clear? Was the lighting a distraction? Did the power go out mid-concert?

It takes days for electricians, live sound professionals and construction crews to set up a stage for a concert in a park, gorge or other outdoor location. It also takes kilometres of electrical cables. Copper wires carry the electrical current from generators to the stage, which is likely built of a steel or aluminum frame. All these materials are sourced from mines in Canada and around the world.

Most Canadians would like to know that the raw materials we need for concerts and the rest of our everyday lives are sourced responsibly and sustainably. Share your views and help shape the future of mining in Canada by visiting

Did you know?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the deepest underground concert took place in Finland in 2007 over a kilometre below the surface. Finnish metal band, Agonizer, debuted a new CD in the Pyhäsalmi Mine Oy mine in Pyhäjärvi, Finland, at 1271 m (4,169 ft 11 in) below sea level.

Discover more interesting facts about mining and minerals on the Learn About Mining page.