Alas, all good things....

The timber roof over the St. Joseph Hospital
Today was the last day of the congress. Most of the day was free to try the carillons, visit the museums, take a walking tour of the city and pack. The one scheduled concert at 3pm was to be a Tango concert with two portable carillons and dancers. That was rained out, unfortunately.

I took time to visit the Groeninge Museum and saw wonderful Flemish Primitive paintings and other gems of Belgian art. This afternoon I visited the Saint Joseph Hospital, an 800 year old building that that was once the city's largest institution for the sick and needy. The museum has masterpieces by Hans Memling, one of the most famous of the Flemish Primitive painters.

The clock play drum. Only 30,500 holes to program the tunes

I also took time to visit the tower to try the bells. The drum that runs the automatic player is impressive. It's been marking the 1/8 hours everyday since 1748.(Yes! every 7.5 minutes)

After a closing reception with more free beer and little sandwiches in the old Provincial Government Hall, I took the evening to join a few people for more beer and dinner at a restaurant cafe on the Grote Markt overlooking the bell tower. The rain had cleared and the sun was shining again.

Now it's time to pack and get ready for a morning flight from Brussels.


Today we got to know Bruges.

There were a number of open times to try the tower instrument and two of the mobile carillons. I walked through the main square at mid-day and heard all three going at once. What a noise!

The Bruge Carillon Tower
In the morning was a lecture and "debate". Carillon culture as intangible cultural heritage: how to deal with it? There wasn't much debate, but lots of great ideas. In 2013 Belgium introduced the Belgian carillon culture as a candidate for recognition by UNESCO. This recognition is the for the traditional cultural heritage of carillons in Belgium rather than the carillons themselves. Belgium has been a center of bell and carillon culture since the middle ages. After World War I, the culture was revived as carillons were restored and updated. The culture has spread to other countries, notably the United States. There are about 600 carillons in the world. That seems like a lot, but it's only one per ten million people. How does one help to support the carillons that exist and expand their activities? How do we create that cultural heritage in other parts of the world? Is that the job of the performer, the instrument owner or the community? The lecture/debate was at the Groeninge Museum. I didn't have time to explore the magnificent collection of Flemish art. There will be time tomorrow.
The Magnificent Bruges City Hall

The afternoon was a several hour city walk to learn more about the city. There is a lot of architecture and history packed into the center city.

The mayor invited us to a Belgian beer reception. The beer was from the city's last local brewery. We had more of the little sandwiches that have made an appearance each day at least once.

Tonight a "tattoo" of international marching bands, flag teams, folk dancers and carillon.

In Flanders Fields.....

We spent July 4th on the road.

The Unusual Clavier at Nieuwport with 17 Notes per Octave.

Our first stop was the town of Nieuwport. The carillon there is an unusual one. We'd heard a number of old mean-tone tuned bells over the past few days. The Nieuwport carillon is a four octave instrument with 63 bells, but with three rows of batons, there are two batons for every "black" key. The lower level are the naturals, the middle level the flats, the top row, the sharps. This makes two keys for purely tuned g-sharps and a-flats, for instance. In total there are 17 notes per octave. It makes for challenging performance. So challenging, it seems that most performers ignore the extra row of keys and the tuning suffers.

Market Day at Nieuwport

It was Friday morning market day and the square was crowded with vendors and shoppers. You could literally buy all sorts of produce and anything from chocolate noses to knickers!

Afterwards we were guests of the mayor at city hall for a light lunch.

In the Museum Courtyard hearing the Carillon.

On to Ieper-Ypres. There we visited the In Flanders Fields Museum. It's a truly sad story and hard to visit. Towns in Flanders were totally ruined by the Germans between 1914 and 1918 while they tried to make their way through to France. The Flemish, joined by Allied forces and eventually the US resisted the Germans, but at great cost. Casualties were extreme and the towns were in total ruins. Over time, towns were rebuilt, historic buildings restored, population returned. But, the military graveyards make it difficult to forget the sacrifices.

After an official welcome, we heard selections from a new collection of compositions and arrangements to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the start of  The Great War. The performances were on a carillon recently renovated.

We attended the Last Post Ceremony at the end of the day. Each day since 1928 at 8pm, The Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial remembers the 100,000 Commonwealth soldiers who have no known grave. Bugles sound, choirs sing, wreaths are laid, words are said.

Afterwards, it was back to Bruges. We get to explore Bruges tomorrow.

Bells at the Library

The Library and Carillon of the University of Leuven
We left Antwerp early this morning and spent most of the day in the university town of Leuven. In August 1914, much of the town of Leuven was destroyed by fire as German retaliation. A major loss was the library of the university with 300,000 volumes destroyed, including 1500 rare books. An exhibit in the tower shows the extent of the damage. After the war, many countries donated books to rebuild the library. America donated the building building and the carillon.There are inscriptions on the piers and columns of the entrance porch listing the American colleges, universities and other schools who donated to the effort.The carillon is officially the "American Engineers' Memorial Carillon," having been donated by a number of American engineering societies.

We visited the M-Museum where the current major exhibit is "Ravage, Art and Culture in Times of Conflict." The exhibit shows art that documents, responds to or reflects the destruction of culture during conflicts throughout history. The destruction is still happening in the world and the exhibit underscores that.

We heard several brief concerts on the library and the carillon at St Peter Church near the city hall. One of the recitalists was Timothy Hurd, a native of Gates Mills who is now the National Carillonist of New Zealand where he plays the National War Memorial Carillon in Wellington.


The Leuven City Hall
The afternoon was a symposium, "The Broken Bells of Flanders." Many carillons were lost in Flanders during World War I. The world took note and there were many memorial carillons built during the 1920s. Loughborough,Toronto, Sydney, Capetown, Ottawa, Leuven, Wellington. There are new initiatives as well, Aarschot and Park Abbey in Leuven where an 18th century carillon will be reconstructed.

After an evening Mayor's reception at the 14th century city hall where we tried some of the local beer, we boarded our buses and made our way to Bruges.

Unfortunately we don't explore Bruges until Saturday. Tomorrow its off to Nieuwpoort, Ypes and the Flanders Field Museum.

Today: Lions and Tigers and Bears. Really!

Today we spent the entire day at the Antwerp Zoo. Opened in 1843 it is the oldest zoo in Europe. Between meetings and concerts we had a chance to wander. It's a great zoo. The trees and gardens are all mature. The animal houses are all unique architecture.

We heard five presentations today. In the morning, the first was about the Bell Setters and Carillonists in Old Gdansk. The bells might have been lost to war, but we know who the ringers were and what they played. The research uncovered that the Bell Setter who managed the automatic clock work earned as much as the Kapelmeister. Another presentation filled in some unknowns about the bell foundry in Amsterdam in the eighteenth century and what carillons were cast.

In the afternoon we heard three short presentations. The first traced chimes and carillons installed in America between 1914 and 1918. The American foundries no longer exist, but their bells ring on. The second traced the fate of the bells of Zierikzee in the Netherlands. The last presented a biography of Geo Clement who was an active and respected carillonneur performer, composer and teacher in French-speaking Belgium during the mid twentieth century. He fell out of favor when he started promoting a Schulmerich "Americana" electronic carillon for the Brussels World's Fair. A complete edition of his compositions has just been published.

In the afternoon, we heard a unique concert on a portable carillon at the zoo. Two of our virtuosos dressed up as Mr. and Mrs Lion and performed animal related songs on the carillon along with guitar, accordion or keyboard. The children in the audience had a great time.

The second and last general meeting of the organization heard a report from the Polish guild. The guild reported that the next meeting will be in 2017 in Barcelona.

We heard a request from a member from Ireland living in Chicago. This year is the one hundredth anniversary of the Christmas eve when British and Germans left the trenches, sang Christmas carols and played football on Christmas Day. He is setting up a peace center at the St. Nicholas church near where that happened including a carillon. He is asking bellringers around the world
to note the anniversary on this Christmas eve by playing Silent Night and ringing bells at 19:14.

This is our last night in Antwerp. We heard concerts on two portable carillons the Polish brought with them. One concert was with a percussion ensemble, the other with a jazz sextet.

Time to pack Tomorrow, we're on the road. We spend the day in Leuven on our way to Bruges.

Portable Carillons for Portable Carillonneurs

Saint Gummarus Church, Lier
Today we boarded a bus at 9am and didn't return until 10:30! We spent the day in Lier, a charming town about an hour's drive from Antwerp.

The town's pride and joy is an eighteenth century carillon in the tower of Saint Gummarus Church. The original bells were cast in 1704/1732 by a local foundry. The instrument was recently expanded by Royal Eijsbouts. The new bells maintain the mean tone tuning of the original instrument. There are currently 50 bells that weigh over 65,000 lbs. We heard half-hour concerts on this instrument by the Dutch Guild, the Swiss Guild, the Australian Guild and the North American Guild.

The day was also devoted to new developments in portable carillons. The Europeans have been busy with portable instruments for a while. Most of the time they are instruments hauled around on the back of a truck, like the one that visited the Church of the Covenant a few times recently. We did hear one of those today in the main market square of the city. It was used in three concerts. The first, a concert with folk instruments that had members of the audience dancing. The second was a concert by the Polish Guild that included several pieces with electronics. The third was a concert with a DJ. The square was full of an appreciative audience. the entire time.

We also saw two recent innovations in portable carillons. Frank Steijns is a member of Andre Rieu's orchestra. One of the orchestra's concerts was in Maastricht where he's the city carillonneur, and had him running up into the tower to play along with the orchestra. It went so well, they wanted to program more. He commissioned a portable instrument with a detachable electronic keyboard that could control the clappers expressively. Previous electric keyboards could only bang a bell with one intensity. The result was the instrument he demonstrated today. Even he admits it isn't a concert carillon, but it works with orchestra and in special venues. The three frames of bells can be stacked in various configurations.

The other impressive portable instrument is the "Bronzen Piano" designed and demonstrated by Koen Van Assche and Anna Maria Reverte. The bells were specially cast for the instrument. Royal Eijsbouts added 3% lead to the mix to soften and warm the sound. The carillon seems to be ideal as a chamber instrument. We heard it in a concert hall in solos. We also heard three chamber concerts. The first had the instrument with chamber orchestra and clarinet. The carillon soloist was the winner of last weeks Queen Fabiola carillon competition in Mechelen, Joe Brinx of the US. The music was an Elegy specially composed as a required competition piece. The second concert was for the carillon and clarinet of music by Catalan composers arranged and composed for the concert. The third concert had the Bronzen Piano as a partner with harp and flute. The grand finale was an impressive arrangement of the Danse Macabre for the trio.

Our return to Antwerp was to World Cup madness. Belgium vs USA. People were crowding bars, cafes and squares watching the game on large screens and shouting.

Tomorrow we're off to the zoo! 

Lectures, Concerts and Meet the Mayor

Hendrick Claes (Brussels 17c)
Today was a more scholarly day. Several lectures explored how tune books written for the automatic playing mechanism I mentioned yesterday could inform carillon performance. There are few manuscripts of carillon music from the 17th 18th and 19th centuries. We have a general idea of the music that was played, but look for clues as to how it was played. These lectures looked a the notebooks the carillonneurs did leave behind that they used to program the automatic drums. Others have looked to mechanical organs and music boxes from the past as a source for performance information for other instruments. These "veersteek" books (repinning) show what music was heard during the chiming of the quarter hours. Many times it was hymns and folk music, but we also find versions of popular chanson early on, and later harpsichord music. The lectures compared originals with the versions for the automatic play and the versions for the carillonneur to play. The speaker was able to tease out some clues and suggest ways performers might adapt other music from the period.

As a break from the carillon music, we heard a concert of 18th century music played on baroque flute, viola da gamba and theorbo. The Quirinus Baroque Ensemble presented a special program of works of music inspired by bells including, of course, the "Sonnerie de Sinte Genevieve du Mont de Paris" an extended work over the repeating three notes of the tower bells of Saint Genevieve in Paris by Marin Marais.

Before lunch a member of the German guild, Gunther Strothmann,  performed a carillon concert of music from the German school. After lunch a carillonneur from Mons, Pascaline Flamme performed a concert of Baroque Music and compositions by Geo Clement.
Modern video/audio feed, 18th c. harpsichord
To expand on the lectures, a unique concert combined harpsichord and the carillon, but not at the same time. We heard four pieces of Flemish harpshichord music from the 18th century performed by Korneel Bernolet on a Dulken harpsichord built in 1747 in Antwwerp. Following, we heard the transcriptions of the same four pieces that are in the carillon book of Johannes de Gruytters. He made the arrangements for performance on the Antwerp carillon at about the same time as the harpsichord was built. The same mean tone tuned bells he played are in the tower today. What a unique experience!

Lively reception at the 16th c. city hall.

We were all invited to City Hall to be formally welcomed by the mayor. The Vice Mayor for Culture, Philip Heylen had wonderful things to say about how central the cathedral carillon is to the life of the city and honored they were to have an international group of carillonneurs meeting in the city. The beer and wine were a great prelude to supper in the cathedral garden.

The evening was very different. There is a carillon in St. Petersburg, Russia and the Russian guild sent several carillonneurs to the congress. We heard an unusual, yet spell binding work composed and performed by Olesya Rostovskaya. "Soul of a Bell." It was a piece for carillon with electronics. A montage of Russian folk tunes and bell sounds along with electronics and recorded voices kept the carillonneur audience in silence for the half hour. Another first!

And if that wasn't unusual enough, the same amplification system was used for a concert of Jazz Standards on carillon, voice and guitar. The group played and sang old standards as Misty, Cry Me a River and Fly me to the moon. We heard both of these concerts from the cathedral garden, but the music carried for distance around the tower.

The cathedral garden was a quieter spot for a concert tonight. Last night we had competition from band and crowd noises at a rally nearby. The public transit workers were staging a one day work stoppage today. There were no local buses or trains.

Tomorrow is an all day bus trip for us to Lier. We expect some excitement when we return to town as Belgium plays USA in World Cup competition.