Jul 1, 2013

Percival Price: Changes for Ten Bells, Part 1

I found this document at a sheet music sale, when a local community music school was clearing out unwanted material. Perhaps it had been donated by a retired local musician, or perhaps by a family clearing up an estate. It's titled "Musically Interesting Changes for Ten Bells," and signed "Percival Price, Peace Tower Ottawa, 2/July/31" (that's 82 years ago, tomorrow!).

Percival Price is legendary in the world of carillon players (carillonneurs). This document turned out to be a snapshot of a small but interesting corner of music history. 

In case you don't know what a carillon is, here is Wikipedia:
...a musical instrument that is typically housed in the bell tower (belfry) of a church or other municipal building. The instrument consists of at least 23 cast bronze, cup-shaped bells, which are serially played to produce a melody, or sounded together to play a chord. A traditional manual carillon is played by striking a keyboard — the stick-like keys of which are sometimes called batons — with the fists, and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet.
Since these "changes" are for just 10 bells, it's not carillon music, but rather "change-ringing," to be performed by 10 ringers, one for each bell (see the last video, below). Some pretty extensive information on change-ringing can be found in this Wikipedia article.

The Ottawa Peace Tower carillon was inaugurated on July 1, 1927 by Price, who had consulted on its design. Price was in charge of the Peace Tower carillon from 1927-1939. Here's Wikipedia on the Peace Tower carillon:
Accompanying the Peace Tower clock is a 53-bell carillon, conceived by an act of parliament as a commemoration of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I, and was inaugurated on 1 July 1927, to mark the 60th anniversary of Confederation. The bells weigh from 4.5 kg to the 10,160 kg (10 lbs to 23,399 lbs) bourdon, all cast and tuned by Gillett & Johnston in Croydon, England, and which are used by the Dominion Carillonneur for both regular recitals and to toll to mark major occasions such as state funerals and Remembrance Day. Each bell is stationary and is struck by its internal clapper, itself mechanically linked to the carillon keyboard, to create a note, a particular one on the music scale for each bell. In this way, the carillon plays similarly to a piano, allowing the carillonneur to change the sounds by varying the way he or she strikes the keys.

The date in the upper right corner is June 30, 1931; the date below Price's signature in July 2. 

How do you suppose this piece of paper came to be in Mountain View, California, 82 years later?

How about this scenario: In 1931 a young musician with an interest in the carillon, and perhaps who was a bell-ringer in a church with 10 bells, makes a pilgrimage to Ottawa for some lessons with Price. They have a nice visit over a few days; Price writes out the sheet on June 30. The student sticks around for the festivities on July 1 (Canada Day - "Canada's birthday"). Undoubtedly, Price would have played a carillon concert. The next day, before the student leaves, he/she asks Price to autograph the sheet. Many years pass; the musician ends up in the Bay Area. He/she passes away, and the family donates his/her sheet music to the community music school. It gets culled out for the sale, because the person doing the sorting doesn't think it's worth keeping. I look at it, find it somewhat interesting, and buy it, along with a pile of other music. It sits in a stack of music for some years, until I finally take a closer look.

Happy Canada Day!

For a followup to this post, click here: Changes for Ten Bells, Part 2

Here's Price inaugurating the Peace Tower carillon in 1927:

Another composition by Price:

This 10-bell sequence seems to be "Rounds," the first of the changes on Price's sheet:

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