Ring Them Bells

Dr. Andrea McCrady with VoyageurDr. Andrea McCrady practiced family medicine for many years in her home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2006 she left medical practice and pursued a degree in music with one of the rarest and most difficult instruments in the world, the carillon. The carillon is the set of bells you'll hear playing music from bell towers as distinct from the chime bells you might hear marking the time or sounding an event. There are less than a dozen carillons in Canada, some of those inactive. While there are electronically controlled versions, the traditional carillon is a massive keyboard and foot-pedal device connected to at least 23 tuned bells by cables. In 2008, following an international competition, Dr. McCrady was selected to become the official Dominion Carillonneur of the 53-bell Gillett & Johnston carillon in Parliament's iconic Peace Tower. And on July 1st of this year - after playing "O Canada" - she descended from the Tower and became a Canadian citizen at a ceremony on Parliament Hill.

Long time friend of the project Herb Davis had arranged for my visit and we piled into the tiny elevator with Voyageur, Dr. McCrady and two other guests, Wendy Stokes-Earl and Clinton Unka, to ascend the tower - passing by the chimes visible through the elevator window as we climbed. In the tiny control room, I gave Dr. McCrady and her other guests a tour of my guitar and then she gave us a tour of her instrument - including all the various controls required to monitor the sound in that small, sealed room. She unlocked several mysteries for me - including why sometimes you'll just hear the bells going for no apparent reason not on any hour or half or quarter. I know because I sounded one of those myself under her guidance! She has played all kinds of music - including folk and rock and even the Star Wars theme, some of it of her own arrangement, others composed specifically for carillon - but always starting with "O Canada". As it was the beginning of Advent, she played "Four Dutch Advent Songs", arranged by Leen ‘t Hart and "Advent Fantasy", by John Courter and then Wendy - who it turns out is a student of Dr. McCrady's - played a piece as well.

Clinton had a pretty amazing story too - originally from Yellowknife, Clinton has lived all over Canada and was Canada's first aboriginal Parliamentary page. He now lives in Madagascar but was home for Christmas and the combination of Voyageur connecting to so many aspects of his life and a request played on the Peace Tower carillon (the "Canon in D") made him a little homesick. I confess the whole experience was a pretty emotional experience for me too. Thanks, Herb, for suggesting it and for making it happen.

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