Congress Day One. Concerts and Meetings and Rainstorms. Oh My!

I sit down to write this at 10pm. It is just sunset. We've had everything from bright sunshine to pouring rain today. I'm told that's typical Belgian weather. I notice the locals all carry umbrellas.

The Mechanism That Plays the Tunes on the Quarter Hours.
The day started with a climb into the cathedral tower. The tower is 404 feet tall. With the playing cabin in the midst of the bells, luckily the carillonneur doesn't have climb to the very top. Although many of the bells are almost 350 years old, the new klavier and improvements to the action of the instrument were only three weeks old. I was also able to see the large drum that controls the clock chimes. One of the duties of the carillonneur is to change the tune or tunes that are played on the quarter hours. They are usually folk songs and, during some church holiday seasons, appropriate hymns. The drum is about six feet and looks like a giant music box cylinder. The carillonneur has to place a pin on the drum to make each note of the tune. There are notebooks from the 17th 18th and 19th centuries of the arrangements the carillonneurs made for this mechanism.In fact from these notebooks we know exactly what was playing on the clock when Mozart visited Antwerp.

Following the tower climb a dash through a driving rainstorm found us at the Vleeshuis museum. The museum is dedicated to collecting "the sounds of the city."  Well known for its musical instrument collection, many of its historic harpsichords and wind instruments have been copied for our modern early music performers. A current special exhibition brings together important carillon manuscripts from the 17th to 20th centuries. We also saw bells formerly in Antwerp churches, including a large 14th century bell. We'll be back again tomorrow for a lecture and chamber music recital.,

After lunch was the first "General Assembly" meeting of the congress. The World Carillon Federation is an organization made up of the various guilds around the world. Today we heard reports from the Walloon Guild, The English Guild, The Catalonian Guild, The German Guild, The French Guild, The North American Guild, The Nordic Guild, The Flemish Guild and The Dutch Guild.  Who knew there were so many bells! One interesting statistic. In The Netherlands there are 11 carillons per million population, in Belgium, 10. In North America there is only one-half of a carillon per million.

The View from the Cathedral Garden
After the congress official photo, we heard our first congress recital.  Tom Van Peer, the City Carillonneur of Lokeren and Mechelen, performed a concert of his compositions and improvisations. He teaches improvisation at the Royal Carillon Schoool 'Jef Denyn' in Mechelen. After an alfresco supper in the cathedral garden, we heard an organ recital by the cathedral organist, Peter Van de Velde. Bach and Flemish composers on the modern Baroque style instrument at the front of the church and Widor on the big nineteenth century organ in the rear gallery. Widor played the dedication concert on this organ in 1891. This was the last the organ will be played for a while. It will be undergoing a major refurbishing. Following the organ recital a group of volunteer guides gave us a tour of the cathedral. The art is spectacular including three Rubens altarpieces.

As if that was enough for one day, we had a second carillon concert, this time by Geert D'hollander, the full-time carillonneur at the Bok Tower in Lake Wales, Florida.

Tomorrow is a day full of concerts and lectures.

Travel Day and Arrival in Antwerp

Cleveland to Washington DC to Brussels to Antwerp. It was about 12 hours of travel. The congress begins tomorrow. It looks like a very full week of concerts, tours, presentations and demonstrations. We'll be visiting eight carillon towers. Three of the towers have eighteenth century bells and are tuned to a meantone temperament. In addition, we'll hear five mobile carillons alone and in collaboration with other instruments.

This afternoon was time to walk around the old city surrounding the cathedral. The bells play strains of a folk tune every 15 minutes and a little flourish on the eighth of the hour. The largest bell tolled to announce afternoon mass and interrupted the Australian fire juggler in front of the cathedral. Poor guy.

Thank You!

In November of 2013 The Church of the Covenant was celebrating the completion of my fortieth year as carillonneur. When  I mentioned the upcoming WCF Congress in Belgium, the pastor, Bert Campbell, was eager to find a way for me to attend. This is coinciding with the church's effort to plan for future carillon activities and raising the funds to update the instrument. I'm grateful to the congregation and staff of the church for the opportunity.