Carillon

Carillon. A set of at least 23 bells encompassing two or more octaves in half-tones, and manually played from a touch-sensitive keyboard. The instrument originated in the 16th century in the Low Countries, in ranges of from two to three octaves.

Carillon

Carillon. A set of at least 23 bells encompassing two or more octaves in half-tones, and manually played from a touch-sensitive keyboard. The instrument originated in the 16th century in the Low Countries, in ranges of from two to three octaves. In the early 21st century a range of four octaves is common; five or more is exceptional. The carillon usually is an outdoor instrument, its bronze cup-shaped bells fixed in a tower belfry or, in some modern examples, on an open frame. The bells vary in size: those in a large carillon range from 16 cm in diameter and 5 kilograms in weight to over 2 m and 1000 kilograms. The carillon is played from a keyboard of large round wooden keys and short pedals that are connected to the bell clappers by simple tracker action. The keys and pedals are depressed with full arm and leg stroke, sometimes requiring considerable physical exertion. Dynamics vary with touch, and there are no dampers. Automatic playing (in which there is virtually no control of expression and dynamics) formerly was rendered by a rotating cylinder, with pegs (set according to the music) moving the external hammers. Latterly electric magnets or motors have been used to move the hammers or clappers, the music being encoded on an electronic cassette or computer disk, often as part of a MIDI system. Automatic playing is limited mostly to European carillons. A true carillon is played manually without electric or electromagnetic assists, but can be set up to be played automatically by external hammers and manually by internal clappers.

The carillon came into use as an adjunct to the Dutch tower clock, announcing the time at frequent intervals with pleasing melodies, and providing hand-played open-air music on festive occasions. The carillon's rarity may be attributed to the difficulty in tuning the partial tones in the bells so that chords and complex passages may be sounded accurately. After the mid-18th century there was a lapse of 150 years before well-tuned carillons were built again; in the 19th century about 15 instruments of inferior quality were installed in Europe and three in the US. At the beginning of the 20th century two English founders, Gillett & Johnston of Croydon and John Taylor & Co of Loughborough, developed sufficient skill in casting and tuning to produce satisfactory carillons, and prior to 1922 about eight appeared in Europe.

The Carillon's Arrival in Canada

The first carillon to be installed in Canada, a 23-bell set commissioned from Gillett & Johnston by Chester D. Massey in memory of his wife, was placed in Metropolitan United Church, Toronto, in 1922. It was followed by instruments in the US and in many other parts of the world. In 2007 there were about 600 carillons in the world; 11 of these are in Canada, most of English origin:

Metropolitan United Church, Toronto (installed 1922 with 23 bells, increased to 35 in 1960 and to 54 in 1971)

Norfolk War Memorial, Simcoe, Ont (1925; 23 bells); renovated

St George's Anglican Church, Guelph, Ont (1926; 23 bells, increased to 35 bells in 2006)

Hart House, Soldiers' Tower, University of Toronto (1927; 23 bells, increased to 42 in 1952, renovated and enlarged to 51 bells in 1975)

Peace Tower, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa (1927; 53 bells)

Cathedral of Christ the King, Hamilton, Ont (1933; 23 bells)

St-Jean-Baptiste Church, Ottawa (1940; 47 bells; not in operating condition)

Rainbow Tower, Niagara Falls (1947; 55 bells; renovated 1998-2001; not in operation)

Saint Joseph's Oratory, Montreal (1955-6; 56 bells)

The Netherlands Centennial Carillon, Victoria, BC (1967; 49 bells, increased to 62 bells in 1971)

Exhibition Place Carillon, Toronto (1974; refurbished 2001; 50 bells)

In addition to these, there are a few instruments that do not fit the definition of a carillon. In 1966 the Province of Alberta installed a "Centennial Carillon" in Edmonton. Despite its name, this device is not a true carillon, as it does not use bells. Another instrument, installed at Edmonton city hall in 1992, also falls outside the definition because it uses an electric rather than a mechanical keyboard.

Canadian Carillonneurs

The playing of the carillon rests in few hands. There are only about 400 professionally qualified carillonneurs in the world. The pioneer in the field in Canada and a world authority was Percival Price; other carillonneurs active in Canada in the past were Émilien Allard, Herman Bergink, Robert Donnell, Sydney Giles, J. Leland Richardson, Sydney J. Shep, Jack Skillicorn, James (Bud) Slater, Arnold Somerville, June Somerville, and Daniel Zlatin.

Among the handful of carillonneurs professionally active in Canada in 2007 were Claude Aubin (Montreal), Donald Hamilton (Guelph), Michael Hart, Charles Hogg, Rosemary Laing, Roy Lee, Gerald Martindale, Claire Poirier, and Gordon Slater (Ottawa). Andrea McCrady became Dominion Carillonneur in 2008.

Eight Canadians, Price among them, were founding members of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, and Ontario was the guild's base for its first seven years (1938-45).

Recordings include those made on the Peace Tower carillon by Price and Slater, on the Netherlands Centennial Carillon in Victoria by Herman Bergink, on the carillon at Saint Joseph's Oratory by Émilien Allard, on the Soldiers' Tower by Leland Richardson, on the Rainbow Tower by Slater, and on the Metropolitan United Church instrument by Martindale.

Discography

The Netherlands Centennial Carillon, Victoria, BC. Herman Bergink, Leent Hart. 1974

Bells and Brass. Gordon Slater, Canadian Brass, Peace Tower carillon. 1978. Cassette, Good Day GD7371

Peace Tower Christmas. Gordon Slater. 1979. Tapestry Records GD 7373

Anniversary Carillon. Gordon, James and Pamela Slater, Heather Spry, Andrea McCrady, Metropolitan United Church carillon. 1982 (cassette), 2006 (CD)

Jan Jarvlepp, John Winiarz. Chronogrammes. Gordon Slater et al. 1986. Jarvlepp Productions JW 861

On Christmas Night. James Slater, Metropolitan United Church carillon. 1996. Cassette and CD

Touch the Hem. Gerald Martindale, Metropolitan United Church carillon. 1999

Gaudeté. Gerald Martindale, Metropolitan United Church carillon. 2003

Look At The World. Gerald Martindale, Metropolitan United Church carillon. 2006


Further Reading

  • 'Bell music invades Canada,' Canadian Music Trades Journal, vol 22, May 1922

    Price, Percival. The Carillon (London 1933)

    - 'Carillons of North America,' manuscript, 1933

    Belford, Margaret S. 'Victoria's singing tower,' Victoria Daily Colonist, 3 May 1970

    Allemang, John. 'Let the bells ring out,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 27 Jun 1986

    Wadsworth, H. 'The carillon: an orchestra unto itself,' Classical Music Magazine, vol 15, no 5, 1992

    Keldermans, Karel and Keldermans, Linda. Carillon: The Evolution of a Concert Instrument in North America (Springfield, Ill 1996)

    Leeper, Muriel. 'Ringing the bells,' Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada, vol 32, Oct 1998

    "Carillonneur's job has nice ring to it: Gordon Slater," Toronto Star, 23 Dec 1999

    Hood, Sarah. "If I had a bell . . . Canada's carillonneurs ring remembrance," Performing Arts in Canada, Autumn 2002