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The IU Arthur Metz Carillon will sound for the last time Saturday before undergoing restoration work

Sep 19, 2017
John Gouwens plays the Arthur Metz Carillon
John Gouwens plays the Arthur Metz Carillon on the IU Bloomington campus. Gouwens will be performing Saturday on the carillon for the final time before it is refurbished and moved to a new location on campus.Photo by Heather J. Brogden

The IU Arthur Metz Carillon will chime for the final time at its current location at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, during a farewell concert.

The Indiana University Board of Trustees approved a plan to relocate and renovate the IU Metz Carillon to the center of the IU Bloomington campus as an IU Bicentennial initiative. The dismantling of the carillon will begin in October so it can be shipped to Holland, where the instrument will be restored.

The carillon was constructed in 1970 and has 61 bells, giving it a five-octave range. But its remote location on the northeast side of campus and its lack of comfortable outdoor seating meant it wasn’t utilized much for concerts. Moving it to the center of campus will allow the instrument to be enjoyed more frequently.

For Saturday’s concert, carillonneur John Gouwens, who has been playing the instrument for over 40 years, will perform. Gouwens has been a regular guest carillon recitalist at IU and the Jacobs School of Music, and he is involved as a consultant for the ongoing care of the university’s carillons. We asked him a few questions in anticipation of the performance.

Q. Is the carillon similar to another instrument, and how easy is it to learn?

A. It’s something of a hybrid. The closest relationship is to the piano, since we’re dealing with dynamic nuances through touch. In fact, many of the principles of drawing out a beautiful tone from the piano apply equally well to playing the carillon. A significant difference, though, is that on the carillon, it’s best to never hold down the key at the bottom of a stroke. Most of the time, we try to allow the clapper to get off of the bell right away, so it doesn’t deaden the ring. Playing percussion instruments – such as marimba, tympani and any drum, really – always entails getting the stick or mallet off of the instrument immediately after striking it. On the carillon, we have some mechanism between the key and the clapper of the bell, but we still treat it as if we have the hammer in our hand.

Because we also play notes on foot pedals, it looks a little like playing the organ, but in fact the way in which we play on carillon pedals is totally different from playing on organ pedals. Organ experience is definitely a help, though, since organists – which I am – already have the foot coordination to play notes with our feet independently from the hands.

For someone with a good piano background, it really isn’t complicated to learn.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The Indiana University Board of Trustees has approved a plan to relocate and renovate the IU Metz Carillon to the center of the IU Bloomington campus as an IU Bicentennial initiative.

Bells that are part of the Metz Carillon will be refurbished.
As part of the relocation and renovation, the Metz Carillon will be upgraded with four new bells, bringing the total to 65 bells and making it a grand carillon, one of fewer than 30 in the world and one of only a handful nationwide.Photo by Indiana University

When it was built in 1970 and dedicated by then IU President John Ryan in 1971, the Metz Carillon was an impressive musical instrument containing 61 bells, which allowed for a five-octave performance range, rare among carillons. But its present remote and impractical location – with no space for comfortable audience seating – meant it was rarely used for performances. Additionally, over its nearly 50 years, the present carillon tower has badly deteriorated due to weather and other factors.

By moving it to the center of campus adjoining the IU Arboretum, which is nestled between the Herman B Wells Library, the School of Public Health-Bloomington and other prominent university buildings, large audiences will once again be able to enjoy regular concerts and recitals on the instrument by the IU Jacobs School of Music.

The Jacobs School and the Bloomington campus will also revive the tradition of inviting distinguished carillonneurs from around the world to perform on the instrument. It will also be rebuilt with particular attention to performer safety and weather protection.

Carillons date back to medieval times, when they provided music at religious and other festivals as well as warnings in case of danger. Over several centuries, renowned composers have developed a large musical repertoire for the carillon.

There are about 600 carillons worldwide, with about 60 at universities and colleges in the U.S. As part of the relocation and renovation, the Metz Carillon will be upgraded with four new bells, bringing the total to 65 bells and making it a grand carillon, one of fewer than 30 in the world and one of only a handful nationwide. This, in turn, will make the instrument fully functional and capable of playing a substantial and important part of repertoire that it can’t presently play.

“The upgrade and relocation of the Metz Carillon as part of IU’s bicentennial celebration revitalizes and renews the Metz Foundation’s original vision for the carillon that began during the IU sesquicentennial celebration in 1970,” said IU President Michael A. McRobbie. “I am delighted that this superb instrument will once again become a central part of musical life on the IU campus. It will open up a whole new area of music where our students, faculty, staff and visitors will have a wonderful new opportunity to experience the renown of our talented Jacobs School of Music faculty and students.”

The carillon is named for Arthur R. Metz, a successful doctor who served for many years as the personal physician to Philip Wrigley, head of the Wrigley Co., and to the Chicago Cubs. Throughout his life, he consistently supported IU, funding scholarships, contributing instruments to the Jacobs School of Music and serving as a member of the IU Foundation Board.

The original bells on the Metz Carillon were crafted by Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry in the Netherlands, the world’s premier manufacturer of carillon bells. Each bell was inscribed with quotes about music from American and English authors.

“While the Metz Carillon has a commanding presence and proud history, it is an often overlooked and underappreciated treasure on our IU Bloomington campus, primarily because it is only rarely played,” said IU Jacobs School of Music Dean Gwyn Richards. “The decision to move and restore this majestic instrument as part of IU’s bicentennial celebration will ensure the revival of what has long been one of this campus’s most beautiful and inspiring musical traditions, while providing students, faculty, staff and distinguished guests of the Jacobs School of Music an opportunity to experience the carillon in all of its grandness and amazing sound.”

At the request of then-Chancellor Herman B Wells, who worked with Metz, the following quote was added to the largest bell in the carillon: “These carillons are a tribute to the memory of Dr. Arthur R. Metz, distinguished physician and student benefactor whose loyalty and dedication to his alma mater shall perpetually reverberate by means of this symbol throughout the campus he loved.”

The relocation and renovation of the Metz Carillon will be funded by the Metz Foundation and other private sources.

Q. Why did you learn the carillon? Did you attend a special school to learn the instrument?

A. All my life, I have been fascinated by clocks and bells. In grade school, I became aware that there was such a thing as a carillon, and I read up on the subject. On family vacations, we visited some carillons and met some of the people who play them. I was absolutely seeking it out. All of my training was at state universities, actually. There are specialized schools in Europe that specialize in training carillonneurs. There is no such thing in the United States, but more than half of the carillons in the U.S. are at schools. It was a matter, then, of finding a school where the carillon was being actively played by someone. When I arrived as a freshman at IU in 1975, there was no one available to teach carillon, but there were a couple of organ students who had studied with the university’s first carillonneur who were still around, doing some playing. For me, that was frustrating. I had no way to get started. My sophomore year, another of those organists returned to IU to do doctoral work, but she had actually earned a diploma from the carillon school in Belgium. She was made an associate instructor and in that capacity did teaching and playing. I signed up right away and have been at it ever since.

I did my carillon study at IU for the first year, and then continued at the University of Michigan and the University of Kansas. The experience I gained, plus the excellent professional connections I made in the field right from the start, led to my being hired in a full-time job with organ and carillon responsibilities right out of school. That was most fortuitous! In those days, only about one-third of the organ majors actually found full-time positions in their field. Finding organ and carillon together in a full-time job was quite rare, but it worked in my favor that finding someone who was strong as an organist and as a carillonneur was similarly rare. I was the only one Culver interviewed. I am in my 38th year.

Q. What is special or unique about the Arthur Metz Carillon compared to other carillons you have played?

Arthur Metz Carillon
The Arthur Metz Carillon has 61 bells, which allows for a five-octave performance range.Photo by Eric Rudd, IU Communications

A. The Metz Carillon in its present configuration has its strong and its weak points. The tuning of the bells is remarkably accurate, which is not that easy to achieve, and the mechanism is pretty responsive to rapid playing, including rendering trills and other musical embellishments comfortably and easily. The weaker aspects are that the tower is so very open that the sound is a bit raw. Ideally, a carillon is better off situated in a tower that has sound opening for about 60 percent of each side, with hard surfaces for floors, walls and ceiling to reflect the sound and blend it. As you no doubt know, this carillon is about to be dismantled, enlarged, fitted with a whole new action and placed in a brand-new tower southwest of Herman B Wells Library, off of 10th Street. I am a consultant on the project, and we’ll be making certain that this new tower will be vastly better for the instrument – particularly in terms of the sonority you’ll hear, but also offering some protection from the weather.

In the upcoming project, four new bass bells will be added, making it possible at last to play a particularly outstanding body of carillon repertoire that really has to have those extra bass notes. It will be the only carillon in Indiana capable of handling that repertoire. There are four such “grand carillons” in Illinois, two in Michigan and none in Ohio, just for perspective.

Q. What do you enjoy most about playing the instrument?

A. Two things: First and foremost, I am physically responsible for the volume and dynamic range that come out of the instrument. The loudest and the softest notes I play are all the result of the manner and speed, especially, with which I depressed the keys. The other aspect is that I love the very special sounds produced with music that is written to take special advantage of the unique qualities of the bells.

Certainly, it’s a nice feeling to know that there are many people around and about wherever I am playing who are enjoying the music I make.

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