By Valerie Kong
Visitors passing Parliament Hill in August were entertained by the chiming sounds of Puff the Magic Dragon and Scarlatti’s Sonata in D major during annual summer recitals led by Andrea McCrady, Dominion Carillonneur and Carleton University adjunct performance instructor.
The recitals included a performance by third-year bachelor of music student Beckie Manouchehri, who will graduate from Carleton’s two-year carillon studies diploma program next spring.
The Peace Tower carillon is a large instrument consisting of a wooden keyboard and 53 bronze bells.
“Just the idea that in this little tiny room on the seventh level of the Peace Tower you can make this big sound that you can hear all the way down on Sparks Street – it’s fantastic,” says Manouchehri.
The carillon is played by moving a series of clappers on a keyboard and pedal board that ring each bell, with the smallest bell weighing 4.5 kilograms and the largest bell more than 10,000 kilograms. The six largest bells are located below the keyboard room, while the remaining 47 are housed in the upper belfry below the Peace Tower clock.
“We can really make a lot of noise, but on the other hand, you can be very intimate with such a humongous instrument. It’s like stroking an elephant,” says McCrady.
McCrady, the fifth Dominion Carillonneur of Canada, joined Carleton’s adjunct performance faculty in 2011 to launch the carillon performance studies program at the university after a generous donation of a practice keyboard from Carleton alumna Dianne Parsonage made the program possible.
In addition to playing every weekday and on request for parliamentarians, McCrady teaches carillon students in the Peace Tower once a week under a special arrangement with the House of Commons.
“Friday afternoons are not recitals, they’re teaching time, and that’s very special. Nobody ever dreamed that would happen in the Peace Tower,” she says.
The summer student recital day was a unique opportunity for her students to perform for the hundreds of people who come to Parliament Hill each day.
Manouchehri says playing in front a public audience is very different from when she’s practicing in the basement of the St. Patrick’s Building at Carleton and there’s hardly anyone around. “When you’re bringing a new piece up (to the Peace Tower) you’re a little nervous and you do play cautiously, but you’re not nearly as scared as you were when you first started.”
With a new school year underway, McCrady says she can see the possibility of taking on one or two more students as others progress in the program.
“As the students get better and better, we’re really going to push the repertoire just as you would with any instrument, to make it more interesting and challenging,” she says.
After she finishes her Bachelor of Music degree and Certificate in Carillon Studies, Manouchehri says she hopes to live in a city where she can continue to play the carillon.
“It’s such a cool instrument, and it’s a chance that not every musician gets, that in your daily life or your weekly life you can reach a whole bunch of people and brighten their day.”
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