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!