Ask Not For Whom…

jonathan Bellman

Phil’s evocative rumination on negotiating sonic spaces and the carillon-cello duet brought to mind a personal experience with a carillon. Time to go public.

The University of California at Santa Barbara, where I did most of my undergraduate work, has a large and famous carillon—one of the best in the west, if I recall. One could only get carillon lessons if one was also taking organ lessons, and with carillon lessons came the key to the bell tower, because there was no practice instrument. I never took organ, but I had friends who did…

So on a Sunday afternoon in winter or spring of 1978, here I am in the bell tower with my friend Norm, who is showing me around. He explains how to play the thing, fist over fist (but with relaxation and follow-through; one is not striking blows–a picture and explanation can be found here), and how major-mode sonorities don’t work so well because of the odd overtones of the bells, etc. I’m curious, so I quickly write up a three-voice arrangement of a little Handel sarabande, the D Minor one used as theme music in the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon, and he plays the lower two voices (he is an accomplished carilloneur of two or three lessons’ experience, remember; I’m a novice) and I play the top. Very nice; it works well. I decide I’m a genius.

Did I mention that–this being a real carillon–it can be heard more than five miles away, in the city of Santa Barbara, well away from Goleta and the University? This isn’t exactly a private practice room.

Does Norm know how to play a twelve-bar blues? No. So I write one up: swung-rhythm C-G, C-A, C-B-flat, C-A…twice on C, once on F, once on C, once on G, once on F, twice on C. Repeat 432 times and fade, as pop sheet music has it. Meanwhile, I’m trying to do blues licks and so on on the high chimes, flapping around the clavier like a maniac. With follow-through you can move around pretty quickly and not hurt yourself (or not hurt yourself much). I really have no idea what it sounded like other than that we kept the beat and progression and that there is no instrument less suited to da blooz than a carillon. Having assembled sufficient data to prove that point, we left.

The next morning, outside theory class, a fellow student who lived down in Santa Barbara proper blurts out, apropos of nothing, “Jon, were you up in the bell tower yesterday? When I heard what was going on, I thought, what is THAT…” General laughter all around. “Uh, Dory, why do you ask…?” I may as well not even bother protesting my innocence; Norm is laughing too hard. I opt not to ask what her friends and neighbors thought.

Public apology, then, to the citizenry of Santa Barbara, not quite thirty years late.

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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1 Response to Ask Not For Whom…

  1. eba says:

    I *love* this story. Too bad it was nearly 30 years ago otherwise we’d be able to link to the YouTube video and relive it. Then again, it’s better that it just happened without duplication, and only lives on in memories, yours, Jon, and those of the 20,000 people who lived within five miles of the campus…

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