SoundBites

MRU carillon making campus unique

Ding dong, it's the carillon: Mount Royal University is among the few Canadian campuses to feature a bell tower that chimes on the hour and plays music. A live concert is planned Oct. 27 at noon.
Ding dong, it’s the carillon: Mount Royal University is among the few Canadian campuses to feature a bell tower that chimes on the hour and plays music. A live concert is planned Oct. 27 at noon.

When you’re running late to class or to a meeting on campus, Mount Royal University’s carillon always lets you know.

Mount Royal is among the country’s only campuses with a digital carillon (with its 51-bell Soldier’s Tower, the University of Toronto is the only Canadian university with a true, bells-only carillon).

And you can bet Mount Royal may be the only Canuck campus carillon that plays the theme from Star Wars.

The 60-foot high Kerby Memorial Tower and digital carillon chimes hourly between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. It plays four songs daily: two at noon and two at 6 p.m. With 50 songs in its repertoire, which shuffle and play at random, it takes two weeks to run through them. The repertoire is largely classical, but a keen ear will pick up familiar tunes including The Entertainer, Cabaret, New York, New York and Send in the Clowns.

Mount Royal Conservatory head of organ studies Neil Cockburn is the university’s offical carillonneur.
Mount Royal Conservatory head of organ studies Neil Cockburn is the university’s offical carillonneur.

“I always find it quite relaxing, it brings something special to campus,” said carillonneur Neil Cockburn, Mount Royal University Conservatory’s head of organ studies.

Cockburn helped the carillon find its voice again – after falling into silence over the years, the digital bells returned in the mid 2000s. MRU’s 2010 centennial marked the start of daily chimes and tunes, thanks to Cockburn, who programs it to play. He performs live during convocation. Cockburn also hosts a free live Carthy organ concert in Wyatt Recital Hall on the second Thursday of every month.

Cockburn is performing a free, live outdoor carillon concert Monday, Oct. 27 at 12:10 p.m. as part of the Calgary Organ Festival.

The open air event is audible around campus but the best seats in the house will be listening from the TransCanada Amphitheatre at MRU’s Charlton Pond.photo (82)

The carillon can either be played live using a keyboard in the programming booth of Wyatt Recital Hall or automated using a memory card.

Kerby Memorial Tower and its carillon was officially unveiled in 1972 — when the Lincoln Park campus opened — to honour founder Dr. George W. Kerby.

Reportedly, the carillon can be heard over a four-mile radius, making its broadcast the true voice of the university and part of Mount Royal’s architectural identity.

CARILLON FAST FACTS

  • The same company salesman that sold Mount Royal the original carillon — Schulmerich Bells’ John Nelson in 1969 — also provided the centennial upgrade to digital. Now that’s service!
  • Last Christmas, @MountRoyal4U used twitter to encourage the student body to tweet carol suggestions. Carillonneur Neil Cockburn played Up on the Rooftop during the Conservatory’s Treble and Truss roof raising of its new building.
  • The bell tower was designed to age quickly so it looks like it’s been around forever: the speaker boxes are made out of weathering steel that rusts in the rain, washing down and staining the concrete.carilon
  • The bell tower’s peak inspired the design of Mount Royal University’s current logo, which takes its cues from the triangulated, diagonal shapes seen in campus architecture, including the East Gate, the West Gate, and the peak of the carillon.
  • The carillon plays eight different chimes, including the famed Westminster Peal from Big Ben, Winchester, and Lord Tennyson. Other bell voices include True Cast, Flemish Bells, Harp Bells, English Bells, Celesta Bells, and Organ Chime.
  • The bell tower originally contained 147 miniature bronze bell units which were struck by metal.
  • By definition, a true carillon must have at least 23 bells — any fewer and the instrument is considered a chime.

Sherri Zickefoose, Oct. 7, 2014

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