Ring peace to the world

The history of my university carillon started with a tragedy. On the 25th of August 1914, during the night, German occupation troops were dealing out death and destruction in the inner city of Louvain.
Even the ancient library in the university hall was maliciously set alight. The immense number of burnt ancient manuscripts and books shocked the Western world and in several countries initiatives were set to raise funds to help the martyred Oxford of the Low Countries with the rebuilding.

American universities and other institutes donated a new library. The American architect Whitney Warren designed a magnificent building that was lavishly endowed with symbols of war. Or should I say symbols of peace to remind us of war.
In the New York Times article from 1920 he says after learning of his nomination: "Aside from the honour, I should be only too happy to do my part in this work, which is but part of the debt we owe to bleeding Belgium."

The tower clock and the carillon formed a memorial for the American engineers who lost their lives in Europe.
The 48 stars on the dial of the clock (green arrow on the tower picture) and the same number of bells of the carillon symbolised the then number of American States. At this level we can also see the automatic carillon that uses only six bells. The little drum triggers the bells by jerking some hammers and every quarter the 'Reuzegom' melody can be heard. The drum has no little holes in it so it cannot be 'reprogrammed' to play a different tune. After 75 years this melody is to Louvain what the Big Ben melody is to London. Albeit nothing has happened to it like in that Albeit not as exciting as in Captain Scarlet episode.
The library and carillon were inaugurated on the Fourth of July in 1928.
When the new library burned again during the second World War on the 16th of May 1940, the tower and carillon were miraculously spared. After 1945, sadly, the instrument started to fall into decay.

When American carrionneur Margo Halsted visited she was shocked to find the carillon in a dilapidated state. She rallied support and in 1983 the instrument was thoroughly renovated and was enlarged to 63 bells. Sixteen bells were made redundant, but can now be heard in the Sint-Jan-de-Doperkerk every half hour. All bells weigh around 35 tons. Only the carillon of the Romboutstower in Mechelen is heavier.
Since that time, it is considered one of the most beautiful carillons of the world. It is praised because of its warm sound of the base bells. The 32 heaviest bells were made in England by Gillett & Johnston. The other 31 were cast by Eijsbouts in Asten in 1983.

I visited the carillon last Thursday.
It was absolutely brilliant.
There were two other visitors, a South African and an American lady.

Together with the carillonneur, or should I say carillonneuse, An Lommelen, we ascended the winding staircase of the bell tower. It got colder as we climbed the 289 steps to reach the level where the clavier sits.
It was already pitch dark when we reached the balcony overlooking the city (red arrow on the tower picture). What a view. I must come back in spring when I can see everything during sunset.
As we turned round, we saw the enormous Liberty Bell of Louvain behind us. It weighs a whopping 7 Tons.
Unlike its Philadelphian counterpart, it does not have an epic crack.
The bourdon has an inscription on the front:

This Carillon in memory of the engineers of the United States of America who gave their lives in the service of their country and its allies in The Great War 1914-1918

Bell º4's message of peace to the world reads in translation:

My sounds reveal the changes of life
I sing about fortune in good and bad days
Let there be peace and understanding on earth
This is my wish to you all from this tower

We resumed our climb to the clavier. A very narrow staircase, or should I say sturdy ladder, led us to a trap door and we gained access to the clavier, a small floor just above the Liberty and other big bells (blue arrow on the tower picture). Through another little hatch pulled ajar we could see the smaller bells above us.

The carillonneur had just finished adjusting the tension on the chords that link the clavier and the hammers and set herself down, and then we heard it.
Seven massive strikes on the Liberty Bell. It was seven o'clock. What a sound! It was amazing. We were all looking silently at each other and taking in the massive thuds and trembles.
Then An started playing. First some traditional carillon music. Then some different popular tunes. While she was ringing the bells we gathered round her and started singing the words to the tunes we were familiar with. Little Peter Rabbit was one of them.
There we were, four women from three different continents who had never seen each other before, one playing and three singing along. It was magical. An turned round after she had finished: "That was very special. This has only been the second time people have sung along. When I play people probably sing or hum along on the streets too, but I can never hear them, I'm a bit too far up.
But the carillon in my opinion is truly an instrument for the people. When I play everyone in the whole city can hear it.
And the carillon is the biggest as instruments tend to go. Hang those silly little buffet piano's, harpsichords or accordions.

Anyway, the most exciting bit for me was still to come: I got to ring a few bells myself! I chose some from the lower register. They sound so thunderingly awesome.

I highly recommend a visiting this wonderful instrument. It is free of charge, but you need to send an email in advance to arrange time and date.

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