Walking through the Indiana University campus in Bloomington or Ball State University in Muncie you may catch an outdoor performance without even knowing it. There are only six carillons in Indiana, two of which are in Bloomington.
IU's Curator of Organs and Carillons Patrick Fischer says there's a lot of work to keep the carillons up to form since they're exposed to the weather.
"Any friction that's caused by corrosion or debris getting in those bearing points will have an adverse effect on the ability of the player being able to sensitively control the instrument," Fischer says.
So about four times a year visiting carillonneur John Gouwens drives from his home in Culver to do maintenance. Then he'll play concerts, give tours and offer lessons.
"Carillon is not the place to learn to be a musician, you shouldn't be subjecting the whole neighborhood to that," Gouwens says. "You should be a musician before you start and then you learn how to make the carillon cooperate with you."
Gouwens starts at the Music Annex and then plays at the Metz Carillon near 17th Street and Jordan Avenue, the highest point on campus.
"Carillon is not the place to learn to be a musician, you shouldn't be subjecting the whole neighborhood to that."
"You'd want to be within probably 600 to 700 feet to hear it well," Gouwens says.
The Metz Carillon is a 91 foot tall exposed concrete tower built in 1970. Perched at the top is a lever keyboard wired to 61 bells ranging in weight from 27 pounds to more than three tons.
"Especially this time of year on a beautiful day you get a really commanding view of the campus, the city of Bloomington and surrounding country-side," Fischer says.
It was named in the memory of alumnus Arthur Metz from his foundation that supported scholarship funds.
The carillon has a similar look as to a keyboard.
"What happens here is each key is connected to a wire, there's an adjusting turnbuckle here too to deal with weather changes," Gouwens explains. "The wire goes up through the ceiling and then connects with a horizontal lever, which is mounted on an axle then to another lever."
So a key press pulls the whole assembly that pulls the clapper up to the edge of the bell.
"There's nothing electrical or more complicated than that between the clapper, the bell and me," says Gouwens. "So I can play very gently or loudly," depending on how hard he hits the keys.
The bells come from the most prominent bell maker in the world in the Netherlands.
"A clapper on one of the larger bells can be up to a couple of hundred pounds, which we counter balance some with springs, but it's still a lot more than a finger going down 3/8 of an inch," such as an organ Gouwens says.
There are pedals so he can play notes with his hands and feet. That makes it possible for him to play multiple notes at one time.
"From the time I was a little kid, I was fascinated by clocks and bells, and I have a collection of clocks now, that's one of my hobbies and I showed an interest in the organ by the time I was two years old."
The university has a couple other people who do play the carillon on a semi-regular basis, but it's not an instrument that's easy to master. Gouwens says there are maybe ten performers in the country that are considered active recitalists.
Fischer says it's more than just the mechanics of learning how to play the carillon... "it's a matter of not being afraid of heights."