Keeping keys low for repeated notes

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Keeping keys low for repeated notes

Postby JohnGouwens on Sun Dec 16, 2012 11:39 pm

I figure I should "prime the pump" here a bit!
This one I started up in Facebook (in the Beiaardiers group, before I'd started up my own group), but it absolutely is appropriate here:

John Gouwens
Hey everybody!! Here's a question I want to run by all of you! Traditionally, most of us are taught that in patterns where there is a repeated note alternating with a moving line (as in most of the van den Gheyn preludes), we should keep the key for the repeated note lower. I have my students doing that as well, but I've been pondering the question of WHY we do that? OK, it makes it easier to keep the repeated note softer, giving more emphasis to the moving notes, but one could also play softly with full strokes. What else is the reasoning here? Also, on modern, better-engineered carillon actions, is it necessary at all?
Like · · Unfollow Post · Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 1:17pm near Culver
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Erasmus Carillon and Gideon Bodden like this.

[I assume from here on that you know that the name at the start of each post is the person making the comment. I'll do likewise for other imports from Facebook.]
Frank Steijns hi John, don't really think about it while playing. I just want a certain sound, and it turns out I keep the repeated notes lower in vdG preludes. And also, it saves a lot of energy, even on a well-engineered carillon. A good thing: the energy and blood of a musician should run through the heart, not the muscles
Friday, November 18, 2011 at 9:37pm · Like · 3Reply

John Gouwens The ease of repitition is certainly a good reason. Another is that many carillons tend to have a bounce at the top of the stroke, and by catching the key upon its return, you can put a stop to that. It's all very well to have emotion guide your playing...See More
Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 8:12am via mobile · LikeReply

Frank Steijns i agree! but if we DO have a video screen..... :))))

YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.
Share your videos with friends, family, and the world
Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 2:08pm · Like · 2Reply

John Gouwens Yes, Frank, you do know how to put on an engaging visual show, but I am saying that sometimes the visual flourish results in a clunky sound, due to the shock wave introduced when the already-in-motion hand smacks into the key. The sound that comes out is far more important than how one looks at the console.
Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 3:38pm via mobile · LikeReply

Frank Steijns there's something you should know about me, John. If there are smileys behind my remarks, I'm joking, being ironic or at least not too seriously. Now look back to my last posting
Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 5:19pm · Like · 1Reply

John Gouwens Understood. I'm accessing FB from my phone, and won't be able to watch your video until later. I have made a long study of the way playing technique impacts the sonority that comes out. Far too many carillonneurs have no idea about that, sorry to say! I'll look forward to viewing your video later tonight.
Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 6:51pm via mobile · Like · 1Reply

John Gouwens Oh good grief! Now I'm viewing that ridiculous video! If I ever come anywhere close to being such a musical buffoon, shoot me and put me out of my misery. You may have heard the famous quote - which Liberace himself confirmed. Somebody asked him once if the vicious criticism music critics leveled at him upset him. His response was, "I cry all the way to the bank." (After all, he was rolling in money. What did he care?)
Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 12:46am · LikeReply

Gideon Bodden If a key is in rest-position, it takes more time to push it down in such a way that the clapper will eventually strike the bell with a low speed, and that the bell will sound softly. A skilled carillonneur, playing an instrument with a well controllable transmission, will be able to create this soft sound while hitting the in-rest key from above. Call it 'martellato' or whatever.
But in case of relatively fast repetition of one note, that is very different. The whole combination of clapper, roller bar, wires and key, after the first stroke needs to travel back into rest-position and even when the key reaches its up-position, in many cases there is still motion going on in the transmission, just think about wobbling wires.. In other words: it really takes some time before the whole system returns to 'rest-position', and is ready for a well controlled soft stroke from high up. There isn't enough time to repeat the ideal soft full stroke.
Now in case of these 'Vanden Gheyn figures', in case the player chooses a good allegro, in case the player doesn't want all these repetitions to sound forte AND in case the player insists on well controlled regular rhythm, the answer is: No, playing full strokes is not an option!
Monday, November 21, 2011 at 6:39pm · Like · 1Reply

John Gouwens Of course you are right that the intermediate action parts take awhile to settle down. That's why catching the returning key and easing it to a stop is useful. I do think it is possible - likely, even - that on some carillons, it may not be necessary to play vdGheyn figurations that way. Of course, it does no harm, but it is healthy, I believe, to re-evaluate the question now and then, rather than to follow autmatically what we were taught. As for even rhythm, I differ with you, Gideon. The almost-universal rhythm problem in those figurations is short-long short-long, which tends to get worse if the even-numbered notes' keys are already partway down. That isn't a reason not to do it, one must always listen!
Monday, November 21, 2011 at 7:26pm via mobile · LikeReply

John Gouwens By the way, I get that martellato/staccato effect without hitting the keys from above. Why beat up your hands? It's all in the wrist!
Monday, November 21, 2011 at 7:31pm via mobile · LikeReply

Gideon Bodden Agreed, constant re-evaluation is a must! But some things just will never change. There are just physical limits. If a carillon is required to have a very light action, then speed will be limited. No way to get around inertia.
Monday, November 21, 2011 at 7:34pm · LikeReply

Gideon Bodden I was just referring to Todd's description of that technique, you better ask him why.
Monday, November 21, 2011 at 7:36pm · LikeReply

John Gouwens Agreed, and even with a normal key travel, if the action is balanced to make the touch light - think Bok Tower - that also limits the volume one can produce. This, too, is related to inertia.
Monday, November 21, 2011 at 7:46pm via mobile · LikeReply

John Gouwens When Todd brought that up - on the GCNA e-mail list, not here, he was making an irrelevant comment. You stated it as if you do it that way. How do you go about it?
Monday, November 21, 2011 at 7:58pm via mobile · LikeReply

Gideon Bodden I do not do it that way! In fact, I explained why that technique is unlikely to work....
Monday, November 21, 2011 at 8:34pm · LikeReply

John Gouwens Where? I know you agree with me that the player can have a strong influence on how long a note will sound. What I teach (in person and in the book) is that for a long-ringing, "legato" sound, you should begin the stroke with a slight forward motion, which makes the actual acceleration of the key a bit more gradual at first. For the "staccato" touch, it's a quick, sharp stroke from the wrist, but in both cases, the hand and the key accelerate together. You adjust the turnbuckles differently, and since you (in the Dutch environment) are less likely to emphasize very soft playing, I suspect you have worked it out rather differently. How do you do it?
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 12:01am · LikeReply

Jamie Hockey intense!!
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 12:23pm · LikeReply

John Gouwens Well, some of us are serious enough about musical refinement to make an ongoing study of how one's playing technique can influence sound. I teach my students both touches (my own variation on both, of course) early on. Sadly, I believe there are a great many carillonneurs who know nothing of such refinements.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 1:09pm · LikeReply
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Re: Keeping keys low for repeated notes

Postby JohnGouwens on Sun Dec 16, 2012 11:52 pm

Hopefully, I'll be able to recruit Gideon to this forum before too long. I'll go ahead and present my next argument as if he were here already, and of course others are welcome to jump in. These days, some companies are making clapper pivots with well-designed bushings or bearings that essentially eliminate side swaying of clappers. Gideon has designed transmission changes that involve rigid metal connections in place of vertical wires, and the pliable material "Dyneema" in place of the horizonal wires, as it offers the necessary "give," but without flapping around afterwards. If one combines all that in one instrument (not sure we have an example of that yet), is it not plausible that we could eliminate most of the extraneous motion, thereby eliminating the chief reason for holding all repeated notes low? Now of course, when you want to keep the repeated notes softer than the moving line (usually the case in van den Gheyn), there's still a good reason to shorten the stroke. (I'm now kicking myself that I didn't take a close look at the clappers Gideon put in at Hilvarenbeek - not sure what his crownstaples were like!)
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Re: Keeping keys low for repeated notes

Postby FrancesNewell on Sat Dec 29, 2012 10:15 pm

Frances Newell testing. For me, repeated notes have to be played keeping the key low, or the bells just won't keep playing. That's just my own physical reality, since I have big, heavy low bells.
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Re: Keeping keys low for repeated notes

Postby JohnGouwens on Sun Dec 30, 2012 4:37 pm

Indeed, Frances, with lower bells, especially with an old transmission, holding those keys low is a necessity. Is any of your carillon spring-balanced, or does it still use counterweights? That's a big factor.

Now, when I was a student at the University of Kansas (long before the renovation of the 1990s), the action had some rather long roller-bars, and was well counterweighted. The keys for bass notes returned rather slowly, and if I needed the note before it had reached the "at rest" position, the first attempt to push it back down simply stopped the ascent. It took a second push to get it back down. On that carillon, I did a great deal of catching repeated note keys on their way up, as well as pre-depressing keys (when time allowed) for any notes that needed to be soft. At Culver, even before we did the spring balancing we now have, I never needed to do so much of that. (There are far fewer torsion problems with the roller-bars.) One of the best examples I know (besides van den Gheyn) of needing quick repetition is Wendell Westcott's "Silver Bells," which should be played in the top octave available. When I play this piece on the La Porte carillon (36 bells, transposed up to A), I really fly through it. The key fall is relatively shallow (I forget the exact measurement), but even so, as fast as I was trying to go, I had less to overcome if I caught a note before the key was all the way up. Of course, there are many, many fast notes there which aren't repeated as well. That carillon, however, is one which has a very responsive action, and might be a situation where catching a repeated note key is less necessary than on others.
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Re: Keeping keys low for repeated notes

Postby FrancesNewell on Mon Dec 31, 2012 3:20 pm

My lower 13 bells are on levers. My upper 13 bells are on coils and springs, installed by Rick Watson in 2009.
I am eternally grateful to Laura Ellis, who showed me the Bert Gerken technique of pushing the key partway down before throwing the clapper.
I'll admit that I don't always do that on the upper bells when the music gets fast.
However, I must push the key partway down in advance for the lower bells, or I'll get a BIG bounce-back!
When playing FF, it can really rattle the cabin if I'm not careful!
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Re: Keeping keys low for repeated notes

Postby JohnGouwens on Mon Dec 31, 2012 9:59 pm

I have no idea what you mean by "on levers." Is there any counter-balancing of the bass end to make it easier? There should be, since your low C is a real low C. Rick might well have fitted it with counter-springs (springs that pull with you to help start the note). Anyway, if the old transmission bars are still in use, that would be reason to do a whole lot of pre-depressing of the keys, as I did when I was studying with Bert Gerken at Kansas. He didn't really teach me that, as I was doing it from the start. (By the time I got to him, I'd been playing for three years already.)
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