I thought I had seen it all. And then I saw a carillon.

After having seen, in person and on YouTube, some outrageous instruments and ensembles (upright bass ensembles, prepared pianos, electric string quartets, a bass saxophone, the Wanamaker pipe organ), I couldn’t imagine an instrument that is even more unwieldy and inflexible.  But let me get this straight: attach a number of bells (from approximately 23 to at least 47) weighing hundreds and thousands of pounds (the largest carillons can weigh over 100 tons: 200,000 lbs!), and place them in a bell tower or other structure that would be able to hold it and get to work playing the works of Bach.  Or Lady Gaga.

I mean, don’t get me wrong.  Any instrument whose proper technique includes slamming your fists on the keyboard is fine with me.  But even with its understandable development from church bells in the town square, I have trouble not seeing it as a status symbol.  The carillon in the video, a class gift to Princeton University from the class of 1892, was proposed as a gift “at once noble yet different from all other gifts.”  It certainly makes my class gift, which was something like in-ground lights in the quad or solar powered trash cans, seem dull.

Even if it was donated less as a practical gift and more as an interesting and exotic piece, it still has a beautiful sound and is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.  I hope you enjoy the video as much as I enjoyed seeing it live.  I’m not sure about when it is played during the year, but in the summer it is played on Sunday afternoons from 1:00pm-1:45pm.  More info can be found here.

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