Ringing Bells Herald the Carillon Festival

Carillonneurs Showcase Their Musical Abilities This Week for the Seventh Berkeley Carillon Festival

Photo: The 61-bell carillon  of Sather Tower will be used for recitals as part of the seventh Berkeley Carillon Festival currently being held June 10 to 13.
Alan Wong/Staff
The 61-bell carillon of Sather Tower will be used for recitals as part of the seventh Berkeley Carillon Festival currently being held June 10 to 13.

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Interview With University Carillonist Jeff Davis

University Carillonist Jeff Davis speaks about Sather Tower's 61-bell carillon and the seventh Berkeley Carillon Festival.

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University Carillonist Jeff Davis didn't begin learning to play the carillon, an instrument made up of many large bells, until he was middle-aged.

"I was curious to see whether at age 40 you could learn a whole bunch of new moves," he said. "It wasn't easy."

Now Davis is in charge of the 61 carillon bells housed in UC Berkeley's Campanile, and is hosting the seventh Berkeley Carillon Festival taking place through Friday.

The carillon, an instrument that's relatively rare on the West Coast compared to the East Coast and Europe, is played like a piano, with keys and pedals that physically cause the bells to chime.

The Berkeley Carillon Festival is held every five years. When the last festival was held in 2003, Davis said one of the goals of that festival was to get performers to focus on the innovative use of synthesizers and electronics with the instrument. This year's festival included one such performance, but also features the style of the carillon that is specific to North America, Davis said.

"What I've tried to do this year is focus on two things: the North American carillon and its music, and younger performers and presenters," he said. "I'm trying to present to the (Guild of Carillonneurs of North America) the next generation coming up."

The guild is the professional organization of carillon musicians in North America, according to its Web site.

The festival aims to provide performers with a lot of freedom to showcase their talent, Davis said. He instructs 15 UC Berkeley students who, along with Davis and three other carillonneurs, give daily performances during the school year.

Davis said that this year younger performers were invited who will be playing for their more experienced peers.

"They will be playing in front of their most critical audience," Davis said. "There's an element of terror that comes with the territory."

Davis said he wanted to take advantage of the quiet, park-like setting of the area surrounding Sather Tower that is typical of North American carillons in order to allow for more detailed performances.

"This allows people in North America to play very subtly, more quietly, with a lot of nuance," he said.

According to Davis, this is a contrast to European carillons often found in close proximity to loud marketplaces.

In addition to the concerts, there will be four examination recitals, in which aspiring musicians will audition for entrance to the guild. The half-hour examinations take place during the guild's annual congress, which happens to coincide with the festival this year.

Campanile performances begin at 10:30 a.m., and continue throughout the afternoon. There were also performances in Hertz Hall during the four-day festival, which is scheduled to end tomorrow.


Contact Nick Moore at [email protected]

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