Frequently Asked Questions
Provided by Gabriel Fanelli and Blair Germain
A carillon is a musical instrument that consists of a set of at least 23 bells that have been precisely tuned to produce the notes of a western scale. The bells are typically housed in a tower, either as part of some other building like a church, state building, or library, or as a separate structure built specifically to house the bells. There are also “portable” carillons in which the bells are held in a large frame on wheels; these carillons are usually much smaller and lighter than regular tower carillons. Someone who plays the carillon is known as a “carillonneur” or “carillonist.”
The Hopeman Memorial Carillon is housed at the very top of Rush Rhees library. It consists of 50 bells which sound (in Helmholtz notation):
G A# c d e – c’’’’ (the HMC is fully chromatic between e and c’’’’)
The keyboard to the bells, while it resembles the layout of a piano or organ, is really two rows of wooden batons coupled with a set of pedals that control the lower octaves of the keyboard. This is collectively known as the “console,” with the upper rows of batons called “manuals” and the lower controls called “pedals.”
How do you pronounce, "carillon?"
“care´-il-on,” with the accent on the first syllable.
What is the history of carillons?
Carillons evolved in the lowlands of Holland, Belgium and northern France. The rich mercantile towns of the lowlands exhibited their status by installing fine carillons in their church towers, and arranging tunes to be played every quarter hour (or more often!) by an automatic mechanism. The town carillonneur played on market days and holidays. It was said that good bells and good schools were the sign of a well run city.
The first tuned carillon was cast by the brothers Pieter and Francois Hemony, and installed in Zutphen, The Netherlands, in 1652. The Hemonys produced many fine instruments; their work set a standard to which modern carillons are still compared. By the time of the French Revolution, changing musical tastes and the wars sweeping across Europe put an end to the first "golden age" of the carillon. Although several Flemish and French founders continued to make large sets of bells, the tuning secrets of the Hemonys and their successors were lost. In addition, new "power" mechanisms were developed to make the carillon easier to play; unfortunately, these mechanisms sacrificed musicality for loudness and ease of playing.
Just before the turn of the 20th century, there was a resurgence of interest in this ancient instrument, due in large part to the efforts of Jef Denyn, carillonneur in Mechelen, Belgium. He improved the musical qualities of his carillon and began a series of weekly concerts that became famous beyond the borders of his own country. In particular, they inspired an American civil servant, William Gorham Rice, who wrote a series of books popularizing this old world instrument. At the same time, developments in England Chime bells in 1929 before installationled to the rediscovery of the art of bell tuning.
Before the Hopeman Memorial Carillon existed, Rush Rhees housed a “chime” of 17 bells that were cast by the Meneely Bellfoundry in Watervliet, NY. In 1956, two bells cast by The Royal Bellfounders Petit & Fritsen of Aarle-Rixtel, the Netherlands (supposedly, the oldest family-owned business in the Netherlands) were added to the chime.
Dutch craftsmen install the carillon in 1973
In 1973, the Hopeman Memorial Carillon as it is today was installed. The 50 bells were cast by the Royal Eijsbouts Bellfoundry in Asten, the Netherlands.
What is the difference between a carillon and chimes?
A chime usually is an instrument that consists of anywhere from 8 to 22 bells, chromatic or diatonic. A carillon has over 23 bells and is in almost all cases nearly-fully chromatic (most carillons leave out the lowest chromatic notes, as they are not frequently used).
Carillons have several advantages over chimes, including:
- a wider repertoire that can be played,
- a wider range of tones, and
- an instrument more sensitive to human touch.
How big are the bells?
The bells weigh a total of 6,668 pounds, making this instrument one of the lightest in its class! In comparison the heaviest bell alone of the original chime weighed 7,800 pounds.
How high are they?
Rush Rhees tower reaches to 186 feet above the ground. The bells are housed in the upper-most chamber at the top of the tower.
Who is allowed to go up and see the bells?
As of now, only student carillonneurs are allowed (while accompanied) into the bell tower. But, the console from which the bells are played sits well below the actual bells. So, only the bell maintenance technician actually sees the bells.
During special school events like FrightFest or senior week, students may be allowed to ascend into the tower, see the carillon console, and look out from the balcony.
Why is it called the Hopeman Memorial Carillon?
The Hopeman Memorial Chime was given in memory of Arendt W. Hopeman, the general contractor to the River Campus from 1927-30.
What happened to the original chimes?
The six smallest bells of the old chime were given to Christ Church Episcopal at East Ave & Scio, Rochester. The remaining bells were taken by the Eijsbouts company back to the Netherlands where they were melted down for use in repairing and building other carillons.
How far away do they sound out? Are they amplified?
Depending on the weather, the bells can be heard across the Genesee River. There is no amplification.
How many carillons exist in the United States? In New York?
According to the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America there are 166 traditional carillons in the USA. In New York state, four carillons are located in upstate New York, three in New York City.
How does one become an official U of R carillonist?
Desire to play carillon may be expressed to the Music Department. The learning process includes private lessons, community service towards the carillon, performances, and meeting with other students learning carillon. Later a qualifying audition in front of peers consists of playing scales, arpeggios, repertoire, and sight-reading.
Do you play it every time the quarter hour sounds?
Thankfully, no! There is an automatic switch that sounds the Westminster Quarters.
Why does it sound "off" sometimes?
The carillon has a unique sound due to something called “overtones.” Any vibrating body (a string on a violin, a bell, the skin of a drum, vocal chords, air through a flute, etc.) will not only vibrate at its “fundamental” pitch, but smaller portions of the body will vibrate as well. These smaller vibrations create other audible pitches called “overtones.” Most instruments are tuned such that a predictable series of overtones is heard:
Fundamental – Octave – Fifth – Superoctave – Major Third – &c.
However, the carillon has a unique series of overtones:
Fundamental – Octave – Fifth – Superoctave – Minor Third – &c.
It is this minor third which gives the carillon its unique sound. Many people who listen to music regularly are not used to such a prominent minor third, and, thus, to them, the bells may sound “out of tune”. However, this sound is the acoustic hallmark of the instrument, and what gives the carillon its true musical color.
How hard is it to learn to play this instrument? How does one learn to play?
The carillon is as easy to learn as any other musical instrument. Keyboardists may find a comfortable similarity in the way the keys are arranged, while woodwinds who are not used to a keyboard may find the layout confusing at first.
The key to learning the carillon is slow practice on the practice keyboard in the basement of Spurrier. The art of playing the carillon lies in muscle memory–training one’s body to remember the sensation of playing until it becomes habitual. The only way to achieve that sort of physical memory is through many slow repetitions.
The carillon is one of the most rewarding instruments to play simply because there is nothing that can reproduce the feeling of playing a piece on the instrument sounding across the campus. It is loud, physical, and incredibly fun! If you are interested, please contact Joe Hanson in the College Music Department.
How do you practice?
An exact copy of the console that is in the bell tower resides in a practice room in Spurrier. This console isn’t hooked up to bells, but, rather, a xylophone. Most of the notes of the piece are learned on this instrument, and only when the piece is comfortably “in the student’s body” does the student practice on the real thing.
This allows people to practice privately and not feel the pressure of knowing everyone can hear them, and it also keeps students from subjecting the entire community to many slow repetitions.
What does the music look like and how is it played?
The music is written on a grand staff, like piano music. However, it is the convention that the bottom staff is to be played with the feet, while the top staff is to be played with the hands.
Do you take requests?
Of course! We are always looking to play music that the community would like to hear, whether that’s your favorite movie theme, folk song, holiday carol, or new composition. Requests may be sent to University of Rochester Carillon Society at Facebook.
How much does it cost to keep this running? Who pays for it?
The carillon relies upon an endowment established by the Hopeman family to cover the cost of maintenance and the summer recital series. Since total costs for a vibrant carillon program exceed the limits of the endowment, private donations are encouraged and can be made through the University of Rochester with specification for the carillon through the Music Department.
How did you get interested in playing carillon music?
“Students sometimes come to University with carillon or chime background, but most hear the bells, decide they want to try playing, and contact Mr. Hanson in the Music Department to get permission to start.
I attended Jeff Le’s presentation in the Spring of 2008 as the culmination of his KEY year. I thought it was really cool and different, and not that many students knew about it or were allowed to go up in the tower. It's an experience you can't get at every college.” - Blair Germain, Take 5 2011
What are some of your favorite pieces to play on the carillon, and why?
“Each carilloneur chooses his own music he prefers to play. Personally, I am a fan of classical music, so I love to play arrangements of famous classical tunes. But, I must admit, I have a soft spot for old folk tunes like ‘O Waly, Waly,’ ‘Shenandoah,’ and ‘Deep River.’ ” - Gabriel Fanelli
“My personal favorite: ‘Carol of the Bells,’ because, quite frankly, it's meant to be played on chimes, and sounds really good on our carillon. It's fun to play ‘odd’ things too, like the ‘Super Mario Bros. Theme Song,’ or ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ from Harry Potter.” –Blair Germain