Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon  

SPRINGFIELD - From 2 to 7 july 2000 the two-yearly congress of the World Carillon Federation was held at Springfield, capital of the American state of Illinois. It was the second time the congress was held in North America, after the congress at Ann Arbor - Michigan - in 1986. The carillonneur of Springfield, Karel Keldermans, and his wife Linda (both of them speak Dutch quite well), had made up a varied programme together with the inviting guild, the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. During the congress, which attracted some 200 persons, they consistently ensured that all activities ran smoothly.

Adolph Rots   ________________________________________________

WCF congresses most of time are made of three sorts of ingredients: the meetings and lectures, the carillon recitals and the other activities, mostly of a relaxing character and focused on meeting other colleagues and enjoying the hosting city. In this report I want to bring forward some of the ingredients; the choice and the description are from my personal point of view.

Most of the meetings were held at the Hilton Hotel, a round tower of some 30 floors, dominating the skyline of Springfield. Apart from the general meetings, chaired with humour by WCF president Adrian Gebruers, lectures and presentations were held in this hotel. There was also a place specially equipped for selling sheet music, CDs and other things.

The congress theme was The carillon as a concert instrument, a theme that plays a bigger role in America with its big carillons in parks and on university campuses, than in Europe, where market recitals and automatic carillon music are the most frequent, but less highly regarded functions of the carillon. For us, the lectures of the composers Robert Byrnes and Gary White, and the ones about Ronald Barnes, Roy Hamlin Johnson and others were of a special interest. Their motivation and way of working were demonstrated with written music and sound examples, and in many recitals. They gave a clear insight into the idiosyncrasies of American carillon music and increased the esteem of the composers.

Since Percival Price closed off the culture of tremolandos and folk songs of Jef Denyn, American carillon music has followed its own way, more focused on harmony and smooth bass melodies. In this regard the name of Emilien Allard (Montréal) should also be mentioned. Based on this home grown musical tradition, around 40 carillons have been built over the last 10 years, amongst which are the five biggest in the world. In the Netherlands we don't have any instruments that can cope with that atmosphere and character; one can easily become envious of that!

Nevertheless the European carillon literature was not forgotten. Lectures about Belgian composers (by Koen Cosaert), about Dutch developments over the last 30 years (by Joost Van Balkom), and about the works of Leen 't Hart (by Laura Meilink-Hoedemaker) were the European counterpart.

The way to attract local people to the carillon in order to create a public was subject of presentations from Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands (Groningen, Venlo), Portugal and America (Trinity College).

A lot of time was given to lectures about developments concerning the instrument itself, both in America and in Europe. Since the end scientific research to ameliorate the ergonomics of a carillon clavier, a new impulse is coming from America.

Richard Strauss has designed and built a compromise keyboard for the Verdin Company, taking the North European measurements for the manual (keys closer together) and the American ergonomics (concave and radial) and measurements for the pedals. Indeed, a nice practice clavier was set up to be played during the congress. This is probably the right way to achieve a world standard.

Different bell-founders gave various new ideas in their presentations. I still remember some of them clearly. The use of carbon fibre for wire connections to reduce the weight of the transmission and to increase its durability (Paccard); thoughts about tuning and retuning of old(er) carillons and an experiment with an automatic carillon where major third and minor third bells were ingeniously combined (Eijsbouts); better casting techniques with less contaminated mould waste, and to turn upside down the completed mould before the casting, in order to get more homogeneity in the metal structure, especially on the outside of the bell (Olsen Nauen).

An eye opener was the lecture by Serge Joris, who in a clear debate explained the importance of bell culture in the past and present in the region that is called Wallonia (B). Before the French Revolution, cities like Tournai (5 carillons), Soignie, Liège (19 carillons), and Mons knew a carillon culture similar to that of Flanders and the Northern Netherlands.

A lot of important founders have worked in Wallonia. A lot of beauty has unfortunately disappeared or fallen into disrepair. The Walloon Carillon Guild sees itself as heir to this great bell culture and is trying, by compiling and publishing a detailed inventory, to stimulate more interest and funding for restoration. In any case, there is a lot of historical material present, undamaged and original, to be studied.

On the occasion of the WCF congress an International Carillon Competition was held, together with the annual International Carillon Festival at Springfield. All of this resulted in a great amount of carillon recitals being programmed. Participants were driven in (school) busses to and from Washington Park, where the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon (Petit & Fritsen, 67 klokken, 1962) is installed.

Despite the qualities of this carillon and the many carillonneurs' achievements, one of the complaints about the congress arose here. American carillons often are such of a distance from one another that involving more than one instrument at a congress gives rise to a lot of transportation problems. What was offered at Springfield was too much.

Members of the jury of the carillon contest were Jo Haazen, Karel, Keldermans, Peter Langberg, Jacques Lannoy, and Gert Oldenbeuving. Incidentally, Dutch carillonneurs were represented in all categories: the first prize of the competition was won by Anne Kroeze (second prize went to Liesbeth Janssens). A great impression was made by Roel Smit, and the only duo of the congress was the Groningen Carillon Duo (Auke de Boer and Adolph Rots) on the 4th of July, U.S. Independence Day, with fireworks as a finale.

A good congress offers an amount of local colour. On many occasions, participants were invited for dinner, and were offered great food by clubs and societies from Springfield. Furthermore, the congress programme had only one non "bell-minded" excursion: the visit to the Dana-Thomas house, a creation from 1904 by the renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

During the last evening, at the Congress Banquet, Adrian Gebruers emphasized that the motto of the 2002 WCF Congress in Cobh, Ireland, would be fun. He assured us that one would not have to listen exclusively to the only carillon in the Irish Republic. As a president and future host, he invited everybody to be present.