Friday, June 17, 2016

The Carillon at Valley Forge

Car-il-lon. "A set of at least 27 bells in a tower, played using a keyboard or by an automatic mechanism similar to a piano roll."

2 weeks ago I had no idea what a carillon was. I had never even heard of it before last Sunday when I was doing interp at the visitor center and was invited to go to the carillon on site here at Valley Forge. I agreed, having no idea what I was getting myself into, and it was a fantastic experience.

The carillon at Valley Forge is one of only 450 carillons in the world and is located in the bell tower which is part of Washington's Memorial Chapel. It is comprised of 58 bronze bells that range over 5 octaves and the bells themselves range from 13.5 to 8000 pounds. The bells are located ~100-120 feet above the ground and are only accessible via a small spiral staircase that winds up one of the corners of the bell tower.

The tour of the carillon started at the base of this tower where the Justice Bell is housed. The Justice Bell is a replica of the Liberty Bell, however the Justice Bell does not contain the iconic crack and adds the words "Establish Justice" after "Proclaim Liberty." The Justice Bell was a symbol of women's suffrage and was carted on a 5,000 mile tour of the sixty-seven counties in Pennsylvania to rally support for women's suffrage. Upon the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August of 1920 the bell, whose clapper had always been chained to its side, was finally rung as a symbol of women everywhere finally being able to speak. I didn't even know of the Justice Bell's existence until this tour and it was a very interesting tidbit of more modern history in a park devoted to the American Revolution.

The tour then proceeds up the spiral staircase towards the bells. Along the climb there is a wonderful study with a mock clavier (carillon keyboard) and a piano, but the bells and the view from the top truly steal the show. One interesting fact is that each key on the clavier requires a different amount of pressure to cause the bells to ring. At the higher end of the spectrum where the bells are lighter it doesn't take much pressure at all to ring the bell, but at lower octaves a pressure of up to 350 pounds needs to be used. This means that some of the bells are impractical to ring by hand and instead are transitioned into foot pedals.

The view from the top of the carillon was magnificent and allowed us to see for several miles in any direction as the carillon is one of the highest points in the park. It was great to get a birds eye view of the park and to become more familiar with how all of the monuments and buildings relate to each other. It was also a wonderfully unique experience to be viewing all of this for the duration of the 20 minute carillon concert.

Overall it was a fantastic experience and I can't wait to see what unique and exciting opportunities are still to come here at Valley Forge! 

No comments:

Post a Comment