What you might think at first look is simply a bell tower at Christ Church Cranbrook is actually much, much more. The tower holds a carillon, a musical instrument consisting of cast bronze bells in fixed suspension, tuned in half steps (chromatic order). It is played from a clavier (keyboard) containing wooden leavers and pedals wired to clappers.
The Christ Church Cranbrook carillon is known as the “Booth-Wallace Carillon” as the instrument was a gift to the church from Grace Booth Wallace, her husband Harold Lindsey Wallace, and their five children, Elizabeth, Ellen, Richard, Shirley, and Catherine. It originally consisted of forty-six bells made by the Taylor Bell Foundry in Loughborough, England.
The largest bell (bourdon) is 6,700 pounds, five-feet eight-inches in diameter, and rings a low B-flat. The carillon was later expanded in 1978 with smaller treble bells to its current total of fifty bells, or four complete octaves. The carillon is in concert pitch, meaning it sounds the notes implied by the keyboard arrangement. To play the large instrument, the clavier is struck with fists and feet. The carillon requires physical exertion as the clappers can weigh several hundred pounds–however, the instrument is balanced for ease of use.
The Booth-Wallace Carillon was dedicated on Sunday, September 30, 1928. The first carillonneur to play the instrument was Anton Brees, at the time one of the world’s leading carillonneurs and famously the carillonneur of the Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. He would return to Christ Church for several summers to play, beginning what is now called the Summer Carillon Series.
The 2020 Summer Carillon Series at Christ Church Cranbrook has already begun. You can listen to the July 5th concert below and go to the church’s Facebook page to learn more about future concerts.
Christ Church Cranbrook has had a number of carillonneurs or carillonists throughout its history.
Beverley B. Buchanan played the carillon at Christ Church from 1964-1988. Beverly was a graduate of the University of Michigan, School of Music where she majored in organ and carillon. She was a long time member of the American Guild of Organists and the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. She concertized on the carillon throughout North America, Europe, and Australia.
Other carillonneurs of Christ Church include Dr. Maurice Garabrant (1949-1959), Dr. Don Cook (1988-1991), and Dr. Phillip Burgess (1991-mid 1990s). The current carillonist at Christ Church is Jenny L. King, who has been at Christ Church since the mid-1990s..
We hope that you will be able to enjoy more of the Christ Church Cranbrook Booth-Wallace Carillon this summer, whether in person or online. I think sitting on the wide lawn in front of the church enjoying a concert sounds like the perfect socially distant activity! For the complete program for the Summer Carillon Series, click here.
– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research