24,000 pounds of MUSIC
Berkeley, Calif. — On terra firma, Jo Haazen carries with him the unruffled ease of a napping cocker spaniel; in the belfry he is nothing short of a horse galloping off in all directions.
Twelve tons of bronze bells suspended above his head, Haazen curls his bandaged, callused hands into a pair of loose fists and delivers a flurry of stacatto karate chops to a keyboard of 48 wooden batons. Simultaneously, his feet stomp two dozen pedals ina frenzied clatter. Inside the belfry of Sather Campanile, Haazen makes a Vivaldi concerto sound like a herd of elephants doing a mazurka across a squeaky gymnasium floor. It is a marvel that the throngs of ate, Jarisberg cheese, and tamari almonds, hear nothing but the heavenly peals of the carillon.
Jo (pronounced "Yo") Haazen is a kind man with a red beard squared off at the collarbone. His name of curly blond hair conjures up a skinny version of Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz." In Europe, Haazen has become something of an Elton John of carillon players. (The carillon, big brother to the chimes -- which are by definition less than two octaves -- is a set of tuned bells with a keyboard of up to six octaves.) He is municipal carilloneur at Antwerp Cathedral, where the bells have been played since 1478. Every Monday evening in the summer, as many as 15,000 jam the square and streets adjoining the cathedral to listen to his weekly concerts. Anonymous while he plays, Haazen is greeted with cheers after each performance. His tunes are on the lips of his fans throughout the city.
Haazen is one of the nine carilloneurs (sometimes referred to as campanologists but "never called 'bellringers,'" they protest) recently invited from Belgium, the Netherlands, France,canada, and around the United States to perform here in the international Festival of Bells. Held at the University of CAlifornia, Berkeley, the week-long festival celebrated a gift from the Clas of 1928 of 36 new French bells to the campanile's existing 12-bell chime.
In this country it may seem difficult to understand creating such a ruckus over a new set of bells. It makes perfect sense to the visiting Europeans.
"The carillon is an essential part of city life in Europe. Every city has at least one. Amsterdam has five," Leen 't Hart told me after a recital given by Jos D'Hollander, city carriloneur in St. Niklaas, Belgium. Mr. 't Hart is one of Europe's most celebrated players of the carillon. He is the director of the Netherlands Carillon School and has taught hundreds of students, in addition to having made records and played background music for several movies. On the lapel of his black checked suit, 't Hart wears a blue and gold bar, given him by the Queen of Holland when he was knighted for his campanological contributions. Like Haazen and D'Hollander, he sports a full beard, but he denies that it is a prerequisite of the profession. "But I'll tell you what is a requirement, " he says, "climbing stairs. Last year I estimated I've gone up 2 1/2 million [bell tower] steps in my career. Delft alone has 375."
In tge Netherlands, where 't HArt lives, the carillon is an integral part of daily life. "It tells the time and provides background music on market days," he says. "On the Queen's birthday I play the national anthem. I don't always get comments when I play, but it is nice to come down after a concert and hear people in the street humming the melody you just played."
The busiest of shoppers turn at least one ear in the direction of 't Hart's playing. "After one of my recitals I got locked in the tower and couldn't find anyone to let me out. So I went back upstairs and began palying a patriotic song which goes: 'In the name of Orange, open the gate.' I played it 10 times. Finally someone heard it and unlocked the door."
While europeans have been playing the carillon since the middle of the 1mth century, the instrument didn't come to this country until after World War I. (Today there are some 130 carillons in univerisity, municipal, and church towers throughout the United States.) Even the most devoted carilloneurs admit it is a sound that takes getting used to. Because no bell can be perfectly tuned, the sound is always a dissonant overlapping of tones. While as difficult to master as the French horn or violin, say carilloneurs who play both, the carillon has always been seen as the horse of the musical instrument family. It is kept in the stable, never brought into the parlor. A carillon can weigh as much as 70 tons, making it impossible to carry around in a violin case or take down after supper to strike a few nots for the dinner guests.
For years the carillon was declasse in American university music departments simply because the level of playing was so poor.
"Until recently the carillon in America was played by musical amateurs, partly because American audiences were less discriminating, and secondly because no one could afford to pay a carilloneur. I've never gotten more than $25 for a concert," says Carl Bangs, the music director of the Berkeley Chamber Orchestra. He has studied the carillon in Europe and holds a master's in campanology from the University of California at Santa Barbara. "It used to be that to gain admission to the guild of Carilloneurs of North America you has to play an advanced recital, but for years they were admitting everyone.The music department of Berkeley didn't want the new bells installed in the tower because it had heard them played poorly in the past and assumed the instrument coultdn't be played well. That, however, is changing. The carillon is being added as [a solo] instrument in many university music departments, and teachers are demanding the same standards of a carilloneur as of any other concert performer."
Much of the credit for elevating the carillon to its present stature in America goes to Percival Price of Ann Arbor, Mich. In the early 1920s he became the first professional carilloneur in North America, and in the decades since he has written hundreds of arrangements for carillon. He was professor of campanology (the history, theory, and technique of playing the carillon) at the University of Michigan, a post from which he has sine retired. Price has written a scholarly treatise entitled "The Carillon," published by oxford University Press.Next year the press will publish his newest work, "Bells and Man."
Price, considered the grand old man of American carilloneurs, has a history as intriguing as that of the public instrument he has devoted his lif to studying. "My parents didn't want me to be a musician," recalled PRice over th telephone on a recent Saturday afternoon. "They wanted me to be a doctor or missionary, something that woudl help the world."
Mcuh to his parents' dismay, the young Price continued to play the organ "for gymnastic classes and movie houses." When he begged his parents to let him study music comosition in Paris, they sent him to the university of Toronto, reasoning that it was "closer to home." The organist at Toronto's Metropolitan Church befriended the young music student and urged him to try his hand at the church's carillon, just imported from Europe. The 20-year-old Price, who had recently traveled in Belgium and Holland and had met a number of carilloneurs, leaped at the opportunity of playing the instrument himself. In a matter of months he became accomplished enough to win a job in 1922 playing the new carillon given to New York's Park STreet Baptist Church (which later became the Riverside Church) by John D. Rockefeller Jr. ("The church had originally brought over a Belgian player, but he didn't know any of the Baptist hymns and had a continental outlook about the speakeasies at the time. So they hired me," says Price.)
The Rockefeller carillon, cast by the famous English bell founders Gillet and Johnson, was the first set of bells with a keyborad to come to the US. In the following months Price became one of the first students at the Royal Carillon School at Mechelen, Belgium, and was later hired by the Canadian government as the Dominion CArilloneur in the Peace Tower at the Houses of Parliament in Ottawa, a post he held until 1939. While playing the carillonin ottawa, Price ws concurrently studying for a doctorate in music composition at the University of Toronto. He failed to attain the degree when his doctoral committee issued a scathing criticism of his final composition. At the suggestion of another musician, Price submitted his comosition to jurors at Columbia university. For it, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1932. Four years later Price founded the Guild of Carilloneurs of North American and went on to teach campanology at the University of Michigan.
Price's reserach shows that bells predated the Bronze AGe by some 6,000 years , originating around 9000 BC in what is now northern Thailand. It was not until 1642 that the tuned bells of the carillon, however, arrived in Europe.
In the Middle AGes, most churches had a singled large bell which was sounded in time of worship, war, or fire. The bell or bells were swung by ropes, a method still used in Britain today. No attempt was made to tune the bells chromatically (make them follow a scale) or to play songs. According to Price, the history of the carillon grows out of these church bells and the evolution of the clock in Europe. During the Renaissance, mercantilism flourished. Small businessmen became increasingly dependent on accurate timepieces. The sundial was unsatisfactory in the cloudy Flemish lowlands, and so the Dutch invented the pendulum clock, which operated on a system of weights. Clock towers sprouted throughout Belgium and the Netherlands.
In 1642, FRans and Pieter Hemony, itnerant bell founders, wandered from germany into eatern Holland and stumbled upon the town of Zutphen, where the town fathers were erecting a new clock. The hemony brothers, who made a business of casting their bells beside any church that would commission them, were invited to make a set of tuend bells for the Zutphen town clock. It became the World's first carillon.
The Hemony brothers have since become known as the Stradivaris of bell founders. They perfected the science of tuning large bells. The hemonies discovered that, when struck, a bell produces not one, but five different tones: a "dominant" tone and four overtones (or "partials"), spaced at intervals of a minor third, a perfect fifth, an octave below and an octave above the dominant tone. They cast their bells thicker than necessary and lathed down vrious parts of the bell for fine-tuning.
Not only did the carillon sound beter than the old church bells, but its function was also entirely different. While church bells were swung, the new civic bells were stationary. A single performer at a keyboard that operated a series of clappers could play local patriotic songs or dance tunes for townspeople marketing in the square below. "A lot of people think carillon music sounds out of tune, but you have to remember that much of it was written as background music," says Price. "People would sit in open-air cafes and if they were bored with the conversation they could listen to the carillon.
"It is arpeggioed music, and each chord fades into another. It is as if you were using a hose to squirt water on the sand and make patterns. The old patterns fade away as you lay the new ones on top. It is the good carilloneur whose new patterns don't clash with the old patterns," says Price.
While the United States may lack the longstanding European tradition of carillon playing, the quality of performing and teaching in this country is gaining quickly. At a recent competition in Amsterdam to select a musician to play the city's oldest carillon, the panel of judges selected an American for the post. Furthermore, one of the greatest carillon players and composers today is Canadian-born Roland Barnes, carilloneur at the WAshington National Cathedral , in the US capital.
If and when American audiences flock to carillon festivals the way crowds attend Jo Haazen's concerts in Antwerp, Haazen has some advice for American carillon virtuosos of tomorrow. He offers in his thick Dutch brogue:
"Everyone plays differently. The Americans play very easy and quiet. The Dutch play with a cold, toccata Protestant feeling. The Belgians are romantic and use many tremolos. But whatever style you play, you can't be a good carilloneur unless you are a good person, with harmony on the inside. You can't play for yourself. You have to give. It's like the difference between the earth and the sun. The earth takes and takes. To be a good carilloneur you must live up in the sun, like the sun."