Everyone’s heard bells before, but have you ever heard a carillon? A carillon is a set of at least twenty-three bells in a belfry, which can be played singly or in concert with each other to make harmonies and chords. Carillons are played like a giant keyboard, with both hands and feet pressing on levers that pull wires that ring the bells. Because of their great size, carillons are considered the heaviest of all musical instruments (one low bell alone can weigh several hundred pounds!).
No one, of course, would ever think of traveling with an entire bell tower to give a concert – or, uh, would they? Enter the musical group Cast in Bronze, who do exactly that on the first carillon with a portable frame. Cast in Bronze’s carillon consists of thirty-five brass bells, with a total weight of four tons. Founded by master carillonneur Frank DellaPenna, Cast in Bronze actually tours around the country. They have played at Disney’s Epcot center, played a concert in New York for Pope John Paul II, played as part of Alice Cooper’s “Christmas Pudding” show, and played for NBC’s Today Show. I saw the bells in action myself at the New York State Renaissance Festival in Tuxedo, New York, several years ago. As a college bellringer who spent three years throwing levers in a tower, adapting music by Elvis and Journey to an octave of bells, I was enchanted.
Before you can say “Ho hum – ding, dong, ding, who cares,” Cast in Bronze is not just a churchbell ringing. The bells are just a highlight, with full orchestration and in some cases (like their fabulous rendition of O Fortuna, the same song currently on the Nutella commercial), with the backing of a choir as well. Here’s an excellent sample of their music, along with a great video of the bells in action:
Wait – what’s with the mask, you ask? DellaPenna’s philosophy is that the bellringer was never seen in the tower; all you knew was the beauty of the music, so he remains hidden beneath his phoenix mask, to draw your attention to the music, not the player.
Cheshire Public Library recently purchased two albums by Cast in Bronze – Best Day Ever, and The Voyage. My favorites to check out are of course “Tubular Bells,” the fabulous “O Fortuna,” and the ever-lovely “Carol of the Bells.” If you like music by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, David Garrett, 2 Cellos, any of the London Philharmonic playing Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull or similar pop-rock, if you like light instrumentals, bells, or even piano music, give Cast in Bronze a listen!