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Carillon facts for kids

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Carillon Olympiapark Muenchen.jpg
Percussion instrument
Classification Percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 111.242.2
(Sets of bells or chimes)
The keyboard of a carillon

A carillon is a musical instrument consisting of bells. Carillons are usually in bell towers, and are made up of at least 23 bells. (If there are less than 23 bells, the instrument is called a chime.) A church in Michigan, called Kirk in the Hills, has 77 bells, the most of any carillon.

The bells in a carillon are usually made to ring using a keyboard. It is similar to the one in a piano or organ, but is made up of wooden batons that are hit with closed fists instead of pressing them with fingers (see the picture on the left). Each baton is linked to a bell with a different pitch and makes it ring out. The bell with the lowest pitch is called the "bourdon", and many carillons have pedal keyboards for the largest bells. The instrument is very heavy, and the world's heaviest carillon, which is in a New York City church, weights 91 tonnes. Also, The Peace Tower carillon in Ottawa, Canada, which is one of the oldest in North America, is played entirely mechanically by a carillonneur.

Not all carillons use a keyboard. Some of them are automated, meaning they play music without a human. They can be controlled using a clockwork mechanism, similar to the one in Big Ben, so that the music plays at certain times every day. Two examples of this kind of carillon are the Spasskaya Tower of the Moscow Kremlin and the Munttoren in Amsterdam. More recent carillons are computer-controlled.

Organization and education

The World Carillon Federation is the central organization of carillon players and enthusiasts. It is a federation of preexisting regional, national, and supranational carillon organizations. As of 2022 it is composed of 15 member organizations:

  • Brotherhood of Bell Ringers and Carillonists of Catalonia
  • Carillon Association Luxembourg
  • Carillon Society of Australia
  • Carillon Society of Britain and Ireland
  • Flemish Carillon Association
  • German Carillon Association
  • Guild of Carillonneurs and Campanologists of Switzerland
  • The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America
  • Guild of Carillonneurs of France
  • Lithuanian Carillonist Guild
  • Nordic Society for Campanology and Carillons
  • Polish Carillon Association
  • Royal Dutch Carillon Association
  • Russian Carillon Foundation
  • Walloon Campanological Association

Every three years, the federation hosts an international congress in a home country of one of the member organizations. The congresses host lectures, workshops, and committee meetings about the topics related to the carillon, for example: news, tutorials and demos, and research developments. Most member organizations give periodical updates to their members on the current state of carillon culture in their respective regions.

Koninklijke Beiaardschool Jef Denyn Mechelen 20-3-2018
The Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" in 2018

Training to perform on a carillon can be obtained at several institutions, though the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" has been the most popular. The LUCA School of Arts in Leuven, Belgium, offers a master's degree in the carillon, and the Utrecht School of the Arts in Amersfoort, Netherlands, has a dedicated school. The Scandinavian Carillon School [da; no] is located in Denmark, and there are schools in the United Kingdom and France.

The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America organizes carillon examinations during its annual congresses. Those who pass are certified as carillonneur-members of the guild. It also partners with the North American Carillon School, founded in 2012 as an affiliate of the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn". Several American universities offer a carillon program within their curriculum. For example, the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of Denver; the University of Florida; and the University of Michigan offer complete courses of study. Clemson University, Indiana University, Iowa State University, the University of Kansas, and Marquette University offer limited credit for carillon performance. Employed carillonneurs will often offer private lessons at their carillons. Universities that possess a carillon but do not offer course credit often have a student organization or education program, such as the Yale Guild of Carillonneurs, which manages performances on the Yale Memorial Carillon.

Music competitions for carillon are held regularly, with the international Queen Fabiola Competition being the most important.


Several institutions register and count carillons worldwide. Some registries specialize in counting specific types of carillons. For example, the War Memorial and Peace Carillons registry counts instruments which serve as war memorials or were built in the name of promoting world peace. TowerBells counts carillons played via a baton keyboard as "traditional carillons" and those with computerized or electronic mechanisms as "non-traditional carillons", among other bell instruments. It also publishes maps, technical specifications, and summary statistics. As the World Carillon Federation does not consider non-traditional carillons to be carillons, it counts only those which are played via a baton keyboard and without computerized or electronic mechanisms.

According to TowerBells and the World Carillon Federation, there are about 700 existing traditional carillons. At least three can be found on every continent except Antarctica; however, of the countries in which traditional carillons can be found, only six have more than 20. The "great carillon" countries—the Netherlands, Belgium, and the United States—account for two-thirds of the world total. Over 90 percent are in either Western Europe (mainly the Low Countries) or North America. In North America, about 80 percent of carillons are owned by religious or educational institutions, while in Europe, nearly all carillons are municipally owned. Almost all extant traditional carillons were constructed in the last 100 years; only some 50 historical carillons from the 18th century or earlier still exist. According to TowerBells, there are another 483 non-traditional carillons, which are located mainly in the United States and Western Europe.

National Carillon, Canberra ACT
The National Carillon, a 57-bell carillon in Canberra, Australia
Netherlands carillon
The Netherlands Carillon, a 53-bell carillon in Arlington, Virginia, US
Parlement d'Ottawa
The Peace Tower in Ottawa, Canada, home to a 53-bell carillon
150607 Carillon Berlin Tiergarten
The Carillon in Berlin-Tiergarten, a 68-bell carillon in Berlin, Germany
List of carillons by country
Country Traditional carillons Non-traditional
carillons per TB
Per WCF Per TB
Algeria 0 0 1
Argentina 0 0 5
Australia (list) 3 3 3
Austria 2 2 5
Belgium (list) 93 97 24
Bermuda (UK) 0 1 0
Bosnia and Herzegovina 0 1 0
Brazil 2 3 1
Canada 11 11 7
Canary Islands (Spain) 0 0 1
Chile 0 0 1
China 0 1 1
Cuba 0 1 0
Curaçao (Netherlands) 1 1 3
Czech Republic 0 2 1
DR Congo 0 0 1
Denmark 28 29 20
Dominican Republic 0 0 1
Egypt 0 1 1
El Salvador 0 1 0
England (UK; list) 8 9 8
Estonia 0 0 1
Finland 0 0 1
France 72 61 19
Germany 48 49 99
Greece 0 0 1
Greenland (Denmark) 0 0 1
Guatemala 0 0 1
Honduras 0 1 0
Hong Kong (China) 0 0 1
Hungary 0 0 2
Iceland 0 0 1
Ireland (list) 1 1 0
Israel 1 1 0
Italy 0 0 4
Japan 3 3 5
Liberia 0 0 1
Lithuania 3 2 0
Luxembourg 1 1 1
Mexico 3 3 6
Mozambique 0 0 1
Netherlands 184 189 63
New Zealand (list) 1 1 1
Nicaragua 0 1 0
Northern Ireland (UK; list) 1 1 0
Norway 12 11 2
Peru 0 0 2
Philippines 1 1 2
Poland 2 3 0
Portugal 3 6 2
Puerto Rico (US) 0 0 2
Réunion (France) 1 1 0
Russia 2 2 4
Scotland (UK; list) 5 5 1
Serbia 0 0 1
Singapore 0 0 1
South Africa 1 3 3
South Korea 1 1 3
Spain 4 5 1
Suriname 0 1 0
Sweden 14 15 13
Switzerland 5 6 7
Ukraine 1 6 1
United States (list) 171 174 144
Uruguay 0 1 1
Venezuela 0 1 0
Zimbabwe 0 0 1
World 689 714 484

Traveling carillons

Carillon small portable
One of the Cast in Bronze traveling carillons at the Colorado Renaissance Festival in June 2008

Traveling or mobile carillons are those which are not housed in a tower. Instead, the bells and playing console are installed on a frame that allows it to be transported. These carillons have to be much lighter than their non-mobile counterparts. Nora Johnston conceived the idea of a traveling carillon between 1933 and 1938. She connected a traditional baton keyboard to a system of chime bars and fixed the structure to a portable frame. Johnston traveled twice to the United States to perform in radio documentaries, orchestral concerts, and commercials. Subsequent constructions by others used actual carillon bells.

According to counts by the World Carillon Federation and TowerBells, there are about 20 existing traveling carillons with only three being non-traditional. Many were or are currently owned by bell foundries as a promotional tool. Almost all traveling carillons are headquartered in Western Europe and the United States. Two American traveling carillons are part of the musical group Cast in Bronze, which features the "Spirit of the Bells" playing the carillon in concert with other instruments or a recording. Cast in Bronze is credited with introducing the carillon to the United States' public in its mission to promote and preserve the instrument.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Carillón para niños

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