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The Berkeley Carillon at 100


Campanile and gingko tree

Sather Tower was completed in 1915, and so for the past year or so the university has been celebrating its hundredth birthday with a wide-variety of events. Celebrations began right after school began with a multi-media event with sound, light, and the participation of the earth in “Natural Frequencies,” a collaboration between several departments on campus. The department’s composer Edmund Campion created a musical composition involving two carillonists (University Carillonist Jeff Davis and Assistant Tiffany Ng), and the vibrations of the earth during the moment of performance, filtered through an electronic version of the Class of 1928 Carillon. The program was produced several times, and the audiences were in the thousands.

A contest, ‘Hack The Bells,’ invited anyone to produce a work of art involving the Campanile. Many of the submissions were various takes on music, and the winning work, Harmonize Place, was written by one of the department’s graduate students in composition, Rama Gottfried.

Tsar Bell

The Tsar Bell in Moscow, largest extant bell, has never been played.

Several carillon compositions were composed for the celebrations. Cindy Cox, the chair of the department, wrote “Mysterium Coniunctionis.” Ed Campion’s Natural Frequencies has already been mentioned. Agnes Szelag composed We. Jeff Davis composed “The Sky’s the Limit and TocsinTocsin was written in conjunction with a talk by Carla Shapreau (a long-time associate of the department who, incidentally, maintains our rare violins and was recently appointed curator of the Salz Collection of Stringed Instruments) on the topic of bell-plundering during World War II. Davis also composed The Big Bong, scheduled to be performed on Cal Day 2016. “Bong” involves two carillon players and an electronic recasting of the largest extant bell in the world –The Tsar Bell, with a pitch of around 24Hz, which cracked and has never sounded. A structure will be constructed in the center of the Campanile Esplanade with 12 sub-woofers, through which listeners can stroll.

The instructional program in carillon performance is vigorous. Currently we have fourteen private students, with another dozen students enrolled in the DeCal class in carillon. The Carillon Guild is active, and student guests at the carillon at Stanford and at UC Santa Barbara, where they gave a formal concert. In addition to performance, several of our carillon students are learning the strange craft and fine art of carillon composing and arranging.

In other recent carillon news, Brian Tang, a graduate of our program, placed second in The Queen Fabiola competition, the most prestigious competition of all. Congratulations to Brian. Brian is now an associate carillonist at Berkeley. Two Berkeley students passed the professional examination of The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America: Andrew Lampinen (2014) and Thomas Le (2015). Both have also recently joined our professional staff, joining long-time players David Hunsberger, John Agraz, Richard Strauss, and Wesley Arai. Graduates and members of our carillon program regularly play recitals both in North America and Europe. In June, University Carillonist Davis will perform two recitals at the Springfield International Carillon Festival.