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For Whom the Practice Bells Toll; The Baylor Carillon

Lynnette Geary and the McCrary Carillon

by Michael Martinez

Practice makes perfect, but when you make a mistake on an instrument this size, everyone is going to know about it. Up in the Pat Neff tower sits the McClane Carillon: an ensemble of twenty-two ton bells operated by a carillon situated in the room below. A percussion instrument, the carillon is operated by means of a keyboard, with keys resembling that of a piano in arrangement, yet resembling a lever in shape. The keys, in addition to the footpedal keyboard below, are attached to metal clappers which strike the bell when played. Mastering the carillon takes time, determination, and thick skin for those cataclysmic, cacophonous blunders; characteristics that Baylor University Carilloneur Lynnette Geary tries to instill in her students for her undergraduate carillon course.

Lynnette Geary first began playing the carillon for St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in 1980. “I pretty much taught myself.  I got the job because I could read music and I was willing to climb a ladder,” she said. “I loved it but I didn’t know what I was doing necessarily.”

Geary standing by the bellsGeary played the carillon for St. Alban’s for eight years before she took a break from the instrument.  Yet, in 1991 Geary began taking lessons with Dr. Herbert Colvin, Baylor University’s Carillonneur and the instructor of the undergraduate and graduate carillon courses at the time. Though Dr. Colvin has since retired, Geary has taken over his roles in the McClane belfry, and she now teaches the course.

The requirements for getting into the class aren’t too demanding: music majors have priority, and students must be able to read music. Music reading aside, the real issue is open slots for the course. “Students have to have my permission to sign up, and there is a waiting list.”

The current undergraduate carillon class filled up quickly, and enough students applied for the course that Geary decided to teach one more student this year—making a grand total of three students. “That’s a lot,” Geary said.   “We only have one practice instrument and the time up here to practice is somewhat limited.” Geary noted that the most students the course ever had was five, taught underneath Dr. Colvin, which proved to be almost too much.

The practice instrument for the carillon, situated in the McCrary Music Building, allows the students to practice notes. “It’s the same size as the actual carillon but its got sound bars behind each key, so the sounds are kind of ‘tinklying’,” she said. “It also lacks dynamic control, students still need to come practice on the real thing.”Geary and student

Testing is a whole other matter completely. “We give about fourteen recitals a year, and there is a student recital on December 6 this year which will be considered their final,” Geary said. “We play for Homecoming as well as for Ring Out.”

Geary mentioned that she herself has benefitted from teaching the course.  “I am on my students pretty hard,” she said. “It’s helped me improve my own musicality, I’ve had to pay attention to what they do.”

For a schedule of the McClane Carillon’s upcoming recitals, visit the Baylor Music Carillon website.

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