Cathedral Bells

The Arvella Schuller Carillon

By Rick Breitenbecher - Crystal Cathedral Carilloneur

The Arvella Schuller Carillon was designed and cast by the Royal Eijsbouts Bell Foundry in Aasten, The Netherlands.  It consists of 52 cast bronze tuned bells (four octaves), playable with expression from a manual clavier located in the Crean Tower on the Crystal Cathedral campus.  This carillon is unique in that it's bells possess a slightly different tone (a 'major third' tone), which sets them apart from other carillon bells throughout the world.  The largest of the bells, or the bourdon (low C) weighs about three tons, and is roughly the size of a Volkswagen Bug.  The smallest bell, weighing approximately 15 lbs is about the size of a flower pot.


Collectively, the whole carillon weighs 19 tons. The carillonneur plays pressing down with closed fists (not hitting or punching, as is commonly thought) on wooden levers, or batons.  Those are connected to wires, which are attached to a large round iron clappers inside the bells.  The bells are bolted stationary, and don't move - the clapper hits the inside rim and produces the ring. Bells can be played loudly or softly, depending on the nature of the music being played.  There are also pedals, to be played with the feet, similar to that of an organ.


Carillons are considered the heaviest and loudest musical instrument on earth, capable of playing louder even than a pipe organ at triple forte. Standing next to ringing carillon bells can damage a person's hearing - that's why the playing room or playing cabin is enclosed, slightly away from the ringing bells.  The Crystal Cathedral playing room is located on a level or floor of the tower, about two-thirds to the top, with the bells located both above and below it.  The carillonneur can open the windows or door slightly, and let the music in, but not the full brunt of the deafening sound. Carillons were first produced in the Low Countries of Belgium and Holland about 300 years ago, and used as a call to worship for the local townspeople. Over the hundreds of years, bell casting and tuning has been refined, and a wide variety of music can be played on a carillon, from classical to contemporary.  The University Carillonneur at Iowa State University has even transcribed music by Lady Gaga to play on the campus carillon, to the delight of the students.


The Arvella Schuller Carillon is a wonderful musical addition to Garden Grove and all of Orange County.  It's beautiful music wafts throughout the church campus, and is audible in the surrounding neighborhoods.  No local university has one, no local church has one, and most importantly, Disneyland doesn't have one - only the Crystal Cathedral.  Hopefully, it will continue to be played for years to come, enriching the musical atmosphere of the local Southern California landscape.

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