Carillon is the largest and heaviest musical instrument in the world. There are only two in the whole of Australia which meet the international technical requirements of carillon and can be played manually. One of them is in Sydney and the other in Canberra.
Established in 1928, the War Memorial Carillon in Sydney is located at the Main Quadrangle clock tower of University of Sydney in Camperdown campus, NSW. It is a type of monument to commemorate those who have died in World War I which included the 197 undergraduates, graduates and staff of the university. Last Sunday, I was lucky to listen to a carillon recital for the first time while visiting the famous campus with Tudor-gothic style architecture.
Inside the quadrangle is a well maintained lush green lawn divided into four quadrants. Although there were people relaxing, reading books, and picnic on the lawn, the place remained quiet. I felt a sense of serenity and tranquility just by sitting on the lawn listening to the beautiful bell-like music playing to the tune of Hedwig's Theme from Harry Porter and other classical pieces.
The free recital lasted for 45 minutes followed by a tour to see the instrument at the clock tower which housed the carillon. A few curious visitors and I were led to the tower by the university honorary carillonist, Amy Johansen. There we were greeted by another carillonist who had performed on that day, Issac Wong.
Issac gave a brief introduction about the bells, instrument, music arrangement, and the mechanism of the carillon. I was impressed by how the carillon looked like and the amount of effort (physical strength) to play the instrument. It was also an eye-opening experience as I had neither seen a carillon nor understood how it was being played. Now, it makes me appreciate the instrument and the carillonist more because it's not just simply a dong on the bell.
The carillon looks like a keyboard instrument with wooden batons wired to clappers inside the bells. I was told that it has 54 bells and a range of four and a half octaves. A sound is produced when the clapper struck the bell. The smaller bell typically has a higher tone which is light to play but the biggest bell which gives a loud dong is very heavy and can last quite long.
Hence, carillonists don't play with their fingers but with their fist or pedal keyboard. Issac was kind enough to encourage visitors to give it a try even though it could be heard by others outside the building and possibly far away. I was also informed that not many people especially the general public are aware of the War Memorial Carillon recitals and the instrument. In Australia, there are only about 16 carillonists and two carillons, which mean Sydneysiders are lucky to have the opportunity to learn more about it if they haven't.
The recitals are free and they are given every Sunday afternoon from 2pm to 2.45pm followed by a tour to see the instrument after the end of each recital on Sundays. Tuesday lunch time recitals are given at 1pm to 1.45pm and tour can be arranged if desired by contacting the university carillonist. The recital music for each Sunday varies depending on the carillonists' selection. For a list of recital program, schedule and contact details, please visit here.
The National Carillon by the lake in Canberra is located on Aspen Island, Lake Burley Griffin. Regular recitals are given every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from 12.30pm to 1.20pm. Visit here for more information.