Whither transposition?

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Whither transposition?

Postby TerryMcGee on Mon Jul 27, 2015 11:49 pm

We're looking at making some big changes at the National Carillon, Canberra, Australia over the next few years, and we'd like to invite your thoughts on some of them. Here's the first. Ours is currently a transposed instrument, playing 1 semitone flat of standard pitch. That was presumably intended to give the sound reaching the ground 50 metres (164 ft) below a little more gravitas. But increasingly, the instrument is being used in conjunction with associate musicians, whereupon the 1 semitone transposition becomes a real inconvenience. Needless to say, it's the carillonist that has to cope with the transposition!

So, to transpose or not to transpose, that is the question. We would clearly not regret playing on a keyboard in standard tuning, but what of the listeners 50 metres below? Would they really mind if it sounded a semitone sharper than now? Your thoughts appreciated.
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Re: Whither transposition?

Postby CarlSZimmerman on Tue Jul 28, 2015 3:38 am

The question of whether to change the transposition cannot be answered without considering the question of how such a change might be accomplished. I see three ways of doing that.

1) Revise the transmission to connect the bells to the keyboard in concert pitch. This would require changing a few keys at the bottom end of both the manual and pedal, so that instead of G,A... you would have, F#,G#... Also add one small bell at the top to connect to the treble C key. On the positive side, you have a miniscule cost for one small bell, but all the rest stay in place. On the negative side, you lose the bass G, while the bass F# and G# are musically useless, and the cost of reworking the transmission would be significant.

2) Replace the entire instrument with one that is a semitone lighter. On the positive side, you would have the same keyboard range as at present, and might gain an improved bell layout and mechanism. On the negative side, it would be hideously expensive, probably requiring complete replacement of the frame and transmission as well as the bells.

3) Replace the F# and G# basses with a G bass, add a C treble, and revise the transmission to connect the bells to the keyboard in concert pitch. This alternative would be intermediate in cost between options 1 and 2. On the positive side, it retains the present keyboard unchanged, and should require minimal modification of the frame. (However, I have no idea of the practicality of getting those basses out, since I haven't seen how the frame fits into the very unusual tower.) On the negative side - well, there is that cost.

There's also the question of the temperament of the present tuning, i.e., is it well suited to changing the transposition by a semitone? If it is truly "well tempered," then it would be OK.

As far as impact on the listeners goes, I think there would be very little. You might try an experiment with a piece of music that requires the bass G but can also be played in a key that is a whole tone higher. Play the deeper version near the beginning of a concert and the lighter version near the end, without telling them what the difference is. then ask which version they like better, and why.

I have no recommendation. But costing out the alternatives would help you to decide whether it's worth the effort.
Carl Scott Zimmerman
Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - home of at least 36 bell foundries or bell sellers, 1821-1961.
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Re: Whither transposition?

Postby TerryMcGee on Tue Jul 28, 2015 6:36 am

Thanks Carl!

Yes, we have been thinking about the rest of the task too, and there are many questions arising there. But I guess I am putting that off, looking for the philosophical answer whether or not de-transposing is a good or bad idea. If everyone howled it down, pointing out perhaps how changing the transposition would punch a hole in the space-time continuum through which all the Earth's atmosphere would leak away, ending life on Earth as we know it, I wouldn't have to look at the pesky practical issues. But so far nobody has (I've also received a number of private replies), so the day of reckoning is approaching fast!

When we get to look at the broader picture, you'll see that there's even more to think about. This all started because we need to replace our clappers, which are 40 years old, too light to start with, very worn, very crude, swing from the wrong place and strike the bell obliquely. (Apart from that they're great!) But if we swing new clappers from the right place, we'll need to move all the transmission bars up. Hey, if we're doing that, we might as well go radial, from halfway up, and quasi-radial for bells from bell #11 upwards. At the other end of the system, the clavier is also feeling its age. So we'd like to replace it with one to the WCF standard. That of course requires changes to the down-wires, guides and registers, so we'd need to replace all that. And of course, we'll need a G bass. How close to your Option 2 are we now?

Interesting thought to play the same piece in both keys in the same recital! I'd got as far as suggesting we audition the same piece in both keys from the ground, but hadn't thought to involve the public. Air on an F# String?

Incidentally, our current range is nominal G to D5, missing bass G#, 55 bells. Possibly nobody advised you when the two extra trebles were added circa 2003? So we'd need a new treble D if we were to de-transpose and keep the current range. And we'd need to decide what to do with the existing bass F#. Trade it in, giving us an easy place to hang the G bass? Well, easier than finding a new location. Or have a pedal for it, or leave it to the Westminster Chimes to play with? So many questions.

You can see why I'm taking this one step at a time.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I look forward to more discussions as we progress along this adventure....
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Re: Whither transposition?

Postby Gideon Bodden on Tue Jul 28, 2015 5:09 pm

It would be a crime to change the pitch of this carillon. It has been decided the largest bell would be an F-sharp, not a G, and it would be transposing down. It makes a tremendous difference. Everyone who knows much about carillons, knows this. It is plainly ridiculous to suggest to do "tests" with the public to assess if it would make much difference at all. The audience is there to enjoy the music, not to form a democratic board of expertise on musical instruments. Leave it to experts.
And if the carillon is to be playing together with other instruments, are these instruments always non-transposing? And are these musicians always playing in the scale of C-major?
And the carillon part is supposed to be performed by a player who is unable to play transposed scores? so: an amateur? And the limitations of this amateur should be a reason to do fundamental damage to this monumental carillon? I find this an upsetting proposal. Dealing with such a major carillon as the one at Canberra should begin with taking the instrument, its builders and its history seriously.
Having said that, we now live in the 21st century, and if it would be considered really necessary to be able to make the carillon sound non-transposing, then the only logic, and "defendable" solution would be to create a shiftable connection between the console and the transmission. Even the late Petit&Fritsen company managed to install such a device a few years ago for a new carillon here in Holland.
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Re: Whither transposition?

Postby TerryMcGee on Thu Jul 30, 2015 2:03 am

Yes, I like the idea of a shiftable transposition (which is why I'd asked earlier on this site if anyone had come up with such a thing). We do that routinely in harpsichords of course, either 440/415 or even 440/415/392Hz. (Standard, "baroque", "old French pitch"). It's easier there - you just lower the keyboard, leaving the jacks dangling on their dampers, slide the keyboard whichever way you want and bring the keyboard up again.

But I can't see it would be impossible on the carillon, and would solve our dilemma. Except we'd still need the missing bass G bell!
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Re: Whither transposition?

Postby JohnGouwens on Tue Nov 10, 2015 5:50 am

I believe the carillon (Eijsbouts) in Alverca, Portugal has adjustable transposition - something about hooking the keys up to different wires. How well it works, I do not know. I know who we could ask, though. Honestly, though, I pretty much agree with Gideon - don't change this carillon! So much of the g-compass repertoire is written with the Kansas carillon in mind, and as it stands, the Canberra carillon is more or less a twin to the University of Kansas carillon.
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