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The Carillon On North America

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The carillon culture in North America officially starts in 1922. Before this time, there were already four instruments with a "carillon" status. Three of them could be played by mechanical devices and one was playable from a keyboard. Two automatic instruments cast by the French bell founder Bollйe were installed at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana (1856, 23 bells) and at St. Joseph's Church in Buffalo, New York (1870, 43 bells). The other automatic instrument was cast by Paccard in 1900 and it was installed in St. Vincent's Seminary in Germantown in Philadelphia. The only manually played instrument (though the keyboard was primitive) was cast by Severinus Aerschodt in 1883 and was installed at the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia (25 bells).

The person who introduced the carillon to North America was William Gorham Rice (1856-1945). He had visited Europe, especially the Low Countries several times. He visited libraries to gather information about instruments. He also visited many of these instruments. He was interested in towers, bell sizes and weight, and keyboards. He was actively promoting the carillon in North America and tried to show that although this instrument was new to America, that it had a long history and tradition in Europe. He founded the Carillon League, assisted in the foundation of The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, and supported the Mechelen Carillon School. In addition, he published several books and articles about carillon art. He also encouraged the purchase and installation of many carillons in North America.

Before World War II

The first modern carillons arrived in North America in 1922. They were usually two- octave instruments made in England. Taylor cast instruments for Church of Our Lady of Good Voyage in Gloucester (Massachusetts), the Phillips Academy in Andover (Massachusetts), Samford University and the First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham (Alabama). The first three-octave instrument, which was cast for the St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Morristown (New Jersey), was also made by Taylor bell foundry.

Gillett & Johnston made carillons for the Metropolitan Methodist Church in Toronto, Grace Episcopal Church in Plainfield (New Jersey), St. Stephen's Church in Cohasset (Massachusetts) and the Norfolk Memorial in Simcoe (Ontario). In 1925 they installed the largest carillon anyone in the world had cast before for the Park Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. This instrument changed the picture for what had been accepted previously as standard for the instrument. It was a four-and-a-half-octave instrument with a bourdon of E weighing 20,000 pounds, with a keyboard which was especially designed for it. That keyboard provided the basis for what later would become known as the North American Standard keyboard. The pedal span was enlarged to two and a half octaves and all the bells could be played from the manual keyboard. Furthermore, the pedal board was now made concave, similar to an organ pedal board. Also the transmission bars were designed with a greater diameter than bars for any previous installation. This added heft would keep the bars stable and reduce torque. The clappers which were made of cast-iron made the bells sound more mellow. The return springs for the smaller bells worked well. This instrument changed the perception about the possibilities for the carillon.

For the next few years these two bell-foundries were competing to install carillons. Between 1934 and the start of the World War II 10 carillons were installed by Gillett & Johnston and Taylor. No American bell foundry was interested in making carillons until 1928 when the Meneely foundry from Watervliet (New York) installed the first American-made 23-bell carillon for the St. Lames Church at Danbury (Connecticut). By 1937 they had installed four instruments in total.

These three foundries were working on improving the tuning system. They were also working on the design of the carillon. For example, Taylor's basic format for bell profiles and weight, for the disposition of bells in the tower and for the design and layout of the mechanism had been outlined in 1929, with refinements beginning in the early 1930s. The person responsible for the installation of the instruments was F.C. Godfrey. At Gillett & Johnston Cyril Johnston was experimenting with the design and construction. Another interesting detail is that these bellfounders provided all the necessary components for the carillons: like bells, keyboard, mechanism, clock and chiming mechanisms. Total control of a project meant total responsibility and thus total quality control.

In this period only one Belgian bellfounder, Marcel Michiels, installed carillons in North America. The first instrument was 28-bell carillon for the House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul (Minnesota). Subsequently, Marcel Michiels Jr. cast a 47-bell carillon for l'Eglise St. Jean Baptiste in Ottawa (1940) and a 35-bell carillon for Stanford University in California.

As the carillon culture started to establish itself in North America, carillon playing became a serious form of art: P.Price (1901-1985), K.Lefйvere (1888-1972) and A.Brees (1897-1967) were the first twentieth-century North American carillonneurs. Price was the first American to be trained by Jef Denyn at the Mechelen School. He became a carillonneur at the Metropolitan Church in Toronto at the age of 21. Two Belgians - Lefйvere and Brees immigrated to North America in the 1930s.

S.Barber, N.Rota and G.Menotti wrote the first North American compositions for the carillon as a result of a course of carillon playing with Brees at the Bok Tower in Florida.

After World War II

After the World War II the import of carillons began anew. Together with British founders new ones arrived in the carillon scene. Although Gillett & Johnston never recovered after the War and the death of Cyril Johnston, Taylor, on the other hand, succeeded to supply the bells and clappers for the 55-bell carillon at the Rainbow Bridge Tower in Niagara Falls (Ontario) in 1946. In 1951 they installed a 53-bell instrument in the World War II Memorial Campanile at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. It had a well-designed and engineered mechanism, a solidly built keyboard and beautifully sonorous bells. This was an important instrument in the development of the carillon art in North America.

The French bell foundry Paccard began installing carillons in America in 1947, starting with the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson (Tennessee). They also cast two large bells for St.Vincent's in Philadelphia.



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