Inside the National Carillon

10 Apr

There’s lots to celebrate. This is the 100th post on In The Taratory. Today is the 100th day of the year (thanks to my Twitter friend for pointing this out!). This is Canberra‘s 100th year. It seems fitting, then, that the 100th post is about something Canberra received for its 50th birthday: the National Carillon.

In mid-March the National Capital Authority Twitter page announces that free tours inside the National Carillon will be held throughout April – but you’ve got to book! I hop onto the fairly straightforward Eventbrite website and book two tickets for a Thursday session (and later hear that the Saturday ones especially get snapped up quickly).

Rather majestic

Rather majestic

It’s a cold, dark April midday as we gather outside the Carillon (this seems to be an interesting explanation of how to pronounce it if you’ve been wondering). We’re there five minutes before for a 12.30pm start, but it takes a little while for things to get underway. We’re part of just a handful of people (although there’s a baby and a toddler, too), so it’s easy to see why tickets sold out so quickly.

Our NCA volunteer greets us and begins telling us about its history and what it’s comprised of. While it was a gift for our 50th birthday, it took a little while to complete. Queen Elizabeth II opened it during her official visit in 1970.

I’ve always noticed and enjoyed the Carillon, but I’ve never actually stood up close to it. It’s quite intimidating!

2013-04-04 12.45

At about 12.45 we’re told to step back because today’s carillonist is up in the tower and ready to play for us! It’s not ideal to stand too close to the Carillon if you’re wanting to listen to the bells – about 100 metres away is ideal to hear the sound correctly.

After a lovely short recital, we’re invited into the lift in one of the triangular ‘legs’ or shafts of the tower (there’s a staircase in one of the other shafts, and a service shft in the third). It’s apparent why there are just a few of us – the lift is tiny and even a handful of people means it’s cramped. We first go to the 2nd floor, the bell chamber. The National Carillon has 55 bells. Originally it had 53, but two more were added in its refurbishment this past decade (perhaps in response to University of Sydney’s Carillon getting 54 bells… surely that’s no a coincidence!). It’s hard to see them all, but some – like the 6 tonne bell – are pretty noticeable!

2013-04-04 12.54

2013-04-04 12.56

The bells have had to go back to England to be recast because they do wear away. I’d always thought the bells would swing, but this is incorrect – and again it’s easy to see why it’s incorrect (I wouldn’t want to be swinging a 6 tonne bell!). Instead, the cables connect to different sized pieces which tap the insides of the bells.

2013-04-04 12.55

We get back into the tiny lift and head to the first floor, where our carillonist is waiting for us. As you might be able to see in some of the photos, the cables go down through the floor into the first floor.

2013-04-04 12.53

Carillon on the first floor

Carillon on the first floor

I have no idea how a carillon is played, but we’re given a thorough explanation. On the clavier (what you play), there’s a keyboard with batons, and a pedal keyboard. They play the same notes, but it can be quite difficult to reach some of the notes on the keyboard, so the carillonest can use their legs to reach them on the pedals. Some of the notes are also seem quite hard to play with the first, and are easier with the leg muscles in use.

Keyboard and pedal board

Keyboard and pedal board

I also had no idea that the keyboard was played with the fists!

In action!

In action!

2013-04-04 13.05

After a quick recital, we get into the lift to go to the third floor – their function room. Obviously it’s triangular-shaped like the other levels, but it adds to its charm. While the windows are a little dirty (kinda understandable!), it’s got wonderful views across the lake in all directions.

Not a particularly good photo, sorry!

Not a particularly good photo, sorry!

Fully equipped kitchen!

Fully equipped kitchen!

Unfortunately, the room is very rarely if ever used as a function room anymore – it’s simply too costly to hire security for the lift, as well as the costs of the many other logistical requirements. Fair enough.

On a long table are some lovely old photographs of the Carillon being built almost 50 years ago, and on another table is a guest book.

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The refurbishment happened in 2003

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The best bit of that room for me is a little peek into the staircase of one of the shafts. The Carillon is 50 metres high, and didn’t have a functioning lift when Queen Elizabeth opened it – so she walked up the steel staircase! Good on her.

2013-04-04 13.18

To be fair, most of the information we’re told on the day wasn’t anything new. What’s more, you can even take a virtual tour of the Carillon. However, nothing beats actually seeing inside and experiencing it for yourself – particularly when so few people do!

Date: 12.30pm-1.20pm, Thursday 4 April

Cost: Free

Worthwhile factor: Worthwhile

Want more? Try out the virtual tour, or if you’re after the real thing, it seems that tours for this time (year?) have all gone, so follow NCA Media on Twitter to hear about the next available tours.  If you’d like to listen to some recitals, you can look at the April program here.

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6 Responses to “Inside the National Carillon”

  1. Gary Lum April 10, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    Great post Tara. Thanks 🙂

  2. Yvette Adams April 11, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    That’s fascinating! The building must be so much bigger than it appears. What a shame they don’t use the function room – what an awesome venue! I’d love to do the tour but I assume it’s booked out cos I can’t see chose a date.

    • inthetaratory April 11, 2013 at 7:55 am #

      The function room was definitely a decent size but still small (however I didn’t find the corners of the triangle shape to be a problem / it didn’t make it feel cramped). I think they are all gone, and not sure if they will do more this year. Even if you’re not on Twitter, I recommend maybe bookmarking the NCA Media Twitter page. The Riot Act also did a good job of picking up on it and spreading the word.


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