Carillon and tower of La Porte  

LA PORTE - On May 16, 2004 the carillon of The Presbyterian Church of La Porte (Indiana, USA) was inaugurated. This new instrument has a three-octave range of 36 bells. The lowest c-key is attached to an a1-bell weighing around 1,000 pounds, so the instrument transposes up a major sixth. The bells will assist in celebrating special worship services, weddings, funerals and memorial services as well as in presenting recitals. Organist David Eicher is the new carillonneur of the La Porte carillon.

The possibility of the church in La Porte having a carillon arose when Mrs. Jean Kesling, a long-time church member, died in December 1994. In her will she gave the church USD 100,000 to be used to purchase a carillon. Of course more money was needed for building a tower, casting the bells and installing a carillon. In July 1998, a project was set up with the name "The Children's Carillon: A Gift for the 21st Century and Beyond".

The name for the carillon was chosen to honour the children that, over 130 years ago, going to Sabbath School took up a collection of pennies and nickels to purchase a bell for the church. The collection campaign took several years and raised the full price that paid for the casting of the 1,502-pound bell in Troy, New York.

No doubt those children performed many hours of extra chores, milking cows, cleaning stalls, carrying firewood and plucking chickens, to earn their bell donations. They definitely must have felt very proud when they heard the new bell ring for the first time across the town, the lakes, and the fields. The beautiful peal of that large bronze bell can still be heard today from its position above the main entrance to the present church building.

It was decided to locate the tower near the main church entrance. This location was most compatible with the sanctuary's design concept. The bricks used for building the tower were the same for all of the structures on the church grounds. Now there is an architectural stylistic unity of tower, church sanctuary and education building. A further consideration regarding location of the tower was that the sound of the bells would not be competing with traffic noise.

In September 2000, excavation for the foundation began. The discovery of water, which had to be confined and removed in order to have a proper foundation, slowed down the building activities and added considerable expense. In the spring of 2001, masons enclosed the steel frame, a cabin was built, and the building continued to the top of the tower. The tower, rising 56 feet into the air, provides a new landmark for La Porte.

All bells were cast by the Royal Petit & Fritsen Bell-foundry of Aarle-Rixtel, The Netherlands. The keyboard, frame and action were also built by Petit & Fritsen. The action is a well-engineered directional crank radial transmission. The keyboard features a new Petit & Fritsen design of turnbuckles (wire adjusters) that are designed to be very quick and easy to adjust. They are quiet, and they do not involve any locknuts to achieve that quietness. The clapper material is cast iron.

The design of the keyboard conforms to the proposed international standard designed by Richard Strauss, incorporating, essentially, the European key spacing and the North American pedal board (concave, radiating). The result of this choice is that the manual appears to be rather far over to the left (given the absence of a fourth octave, though space for the latter is provided), but in fact this is done so that one may readily adapt to the carillon, coming from any standard instrument.

In 2003 John Gouwens, carillonneur of The Culver Academies, was consulted for the final phases of the project. Gouwens travelled to The Netherlands to inspect the work at the foundry of Petit & Fritsen and later supervised the installation of the bells by Verdin.

At the time of the carillon dedication the total cost approached USD 600,000. Many church members donated a bell or gave a gift in memory of family and friends. The project committee also received numerous anonymous gifts.

It is interesting to note that today the oldest and newest carillons in North America are both in the state of Indiana. The oldest carillon with 23 bells, built in 1856, is in the 'Basilica of the Sacred Heart' in Notre Dame, Indiana, and the newest is the carillon in La Porte, only twenty-five miles apart.

About 200 to 300 people heard the afternoon recital on May 16, 2004, skilfully performed by John Gouwens, including a premiere of a commissioned composition by the recitalist.