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

John Gouwens plays the Arthur Metz CarillonView print quality image
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.

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 CarillonView print quality image
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.