Carillonneur Rings the Changes
on Traditional English Pastime
tanding at the carillon in Storrs Congregational Church high above the UConn campus, David Maker looks more like a dedicated musician than a maverick. But as he discusses his favorite instrument and his successful and controversial attempt to adapt the English pastime of change ringing to it, it becomes apparent that he's both.
"My special crusade is to make this a social instrument, because it's lonely up here," says Maker, an associate professor of music and associate department head, as he surveys the windowless room that houses the University Carillon's keyboard. It is tucked under the church's steeple and is accessible only by climbing two steep ladders.
Of the thousands of people who "ring changes" in England and the handful who do it in the United States, Maker is the first one to try the sport on a carillon, which operates bells through a series of connector rods. Updating the centuries-old pursuit for the new millennium hasn't exactly made traditionalists happy.
"When I try to talk about this, it's heresy," Maker says. "They won't discuss it."
By change ringing on the carillon, Maker has altered a tradition that dates back more than 350 years. Normally, change ringing is done by a team playing a set of bells. Each team member pulls a rope to play his or her assigned bell. Intricate musical patterns are produced when the members change the order in which they play. These permutations, in which no series is repeated exactly, can sometimes take hours to complete.
In Maker's version of the pastime, he and up to four other people stand at the carillon's keyboard. Until recently, each person always played one or two assigned keys, simply changing the order in which they did so. Last year, Maker further adapted the sport so that instead of playing the same keys at different times, each player now plays a series of different keys at the same time as other players.
As Maker and freshmen A.J. Farrell and David Renoni demonstrated the new method, Maker joked that he's dubbed it the "Twister" version, because the players end up reaching across each other in order to strike their assigned keys.
"It is crowded," Maker says. "It's violating your personal space."
What looks crowded and invasive to the casual observer is fun to those skittering over the keyboard, however.
"It's the coolest thing," Farrell says, "because when you're walking to class, you can hear the bells and think 'I was up there.'"
Farrell and Renoni both have musical experience through their involvement in the Marching Band, but Maker says even the musically challenged are welcome to give change ringing a try.
In order to make the pastime accessible to everyone, Maker has wrapped each key with a different colored rubber band. On large pieces of poster board, he has meticulously written out "sheet music" for dozens of patterns. On each board, the number of the key is written in the same color as the rubber band wrapped around it.
"It's especially appealing to people who like patterns and math," Maker says of his unusual hobby.
Change ringing isn't the only special thing about UConn's carillon. According to Maker, it's the only example in North America of publicly owned bells housed in a privately owned church.
People interested in change ringing on the carillon are welcome to visit Storrs Congregational Church between 4:30 and 6:15 p.m. on Mondays or between 9:15 and 10 a.m. on Sundays.