Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Carillonneurs and Campanologists

A correspondent sent me some interesting links regarding bells and belltowers.

The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America: www.GCNA.org
Website about bells and bell towers: www.TowerBells.org

A carillonneur is a musician who plays a carillon. According to the website:
A Carillon is a musical instrument consisting of at least two octaves of carillon bells arranged in chromatic series and played from a keyboard permitting control of expression through variation of touch. A carillon bell is a cast bronze cup-shaped bell whose partial tones are in such harmonious relationship to each other as to permit many such bells to be sounded together in varied chords with harmonious and concordant effect.
'Campanology' comes from the Latin word for bell, campana. About the making of bells:
Carillon bells are cast from bell bronze, an alloy composed of approximately 78 % copper and 22% tin, which is heated in a furnace to above 2,000 degrees F, until it melts and combines into a homogenous liquid. The molten metal is then poured into a mold made up of a core, which is the shape of the inside section of the bell, and a cope, which is the shape of the outside of the bell. A bell's weight and profile, or shape, determine its note and the quality of its tone.

Once cast, a bell must be tuned. Most musical instruments produce a complex set of harmonically related overtones or partials. A bell, on the other hand, produces a sound whose partial tones are not necessarily harmonically related. To produce a pleasing, harmonically related series of tones, the bell's profile is very carefully adjusted, or tuned, by the bell founder.

Bell founders tune five principal tones of a bell. These are the Hum Tone, the lowest pitched partial, produced by the vibration of the entire bell. An octave above that is the Prime. This is the tone for which the bell is named, because it is also the pitch of the Strike Note, the most prominent tone heard when the bell is struck. Next is the Tierce, sounding a minor third above the Prime. The Tierce is unique to bells and gives them their somewhat plaintive sound. Above that is the Quint, a partial sounding a fifth above Prime, and last is the Nominal sounding an octave above the prime, and two octaves above the hum tone. There are many more partial tones, but these are usually the only ones tuned.

The casting process isn't sufficiently precise to produce a perfectly tuned bell profile, so carillon bells are cast slightly thick, and then put on a lathe where metal is cut from the inside surface to adjust the various partial tones. Each partial is tuned separately, by removing metal from a different area of the bell. The tuner aims to get the partials into a harmonically related series when the strike note of the bell is in tune with the other bells in the ensemble. Once tuned at the foundry, a bell never needs further tuning in the tower. Bells over 300 years old sound as they did when they left their maker's hands. A bell's greatest enemies are fire, which can destroy the bell, and air pollution, which dissolves the bell metal thus affecting the tuning.

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