If you visit Parliament Hill around mid-day during the week, you will hear the Peace Tower Carillon ringing. This large instrument of tower bells is played approximately 200 days a year by the Dominion Carillonneur. From September to June each year, the carillonneur performs from noon to 12:15, playing a different programme each day. In July and August, the recitals are a full hour, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. each weekday.
The Peace Tower Carillon was inaugurated on July 1, 1927, the 60th anniversary of Confederation. It was commissioned and installed by order of Parliament to commemorate the Armistice of 1918 and the sacrifice made by Canada during the First World War. The inauguration ceremony was a major event and also marked the first live coast-to-coast radio broadcast in Canada.
Between 1925 and 1927, the world famous bell foundry of Gillett and Johnston in Croydon, England cast and tuned the bells. The carillon is comprised of 53 bells, ranging in size from the bourdon, which weighs over 10 tonnes, to the smallest bell, which weighs only 4.5 kilos. Each bell is tuned to produce a specific note of the musical scale. The bells are stationary, and are rung by the movement of their internal clappers. Each clapper is connected through a series of direct mechanical linkages to the carillon keyboard. A carillon’s mechanical playing action, like that of a piano, allows the carillonneur to vary the sound by changing the way he or she strikes the keys.
Dr. Andrea McCrady is the current Dominion Carillonneur, having assumed the role in November 2008. On Tuesday this week, I was one of the lucky guests to attend her noon recital. Here’s a peek inside the playing room. May 8 was the birthday of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), and here is the program Dr. McCrady performed:
- O Canada
- Valsa-Chôro, by Heitor Villa-Lobos, arranged by Liesbeth Janssens
- Gracias a la vida, by Violetta Parra, arranged by Andrea McCrady
- La Savane, Ballade Creole, by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, arranged by Marco de Goeij
After the recital Dr. McCrady answered questions, and let each guest strike the 10 tonne bourdon bell. I wonder what the visitors outside must have thought!