on September 22, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Ringing and rocking

CLEMSON — The dead rock singer Freddy Mercury will fall out of the Tillman Hall clock tower today — sort of. Linda Dzuris will perform “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the tower’s 47-bell carillon as part of her autumn concert at 5 p.m.

“When I do an arrangement like that, it’s hard to imitate a guitar solo,” Dzuris said

Don’t worry; she doesn’t follow the Queen hit with some Van Halen. The Clemson University carillonneur’s program contains mostly classical compositions and tunes written specifically for her instrument.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Clemson Memorial Carillon. During Clemson’s days as a military school, a single bell, now hanging in Carillon Garden by Sikes Hall, rang across campus.

Dzuris’ autumn show features Karel Keldermans’ “Moonlight Malaguena.” The song’s music echoes the mystery in its title. When Dzuris peels off a flurry of notes, it sounds like dreamlike fractures of windblown glass falling from the subconscious.

Whoa, man.

You don’t have to wait for the seasons to change to hear Dzuris perform. She plays every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Clemson’s carillon is a two-story instrument. The bells — which range in weight from 4,386 pounds to 32 pounds — hang in the very top of the tower. Dzuris controls the rig using a clavier from the floor below.

“It’s funny because when I tell people what I do they think I’m Quasimodo, swinging from bell to bell,” Dzuris said. “And as you can see, I don’t do that.”

Nevertheless, manipulating the carillon is a physical endeavor. Dzuris strikes the batons of the clavier — which are laid out like a piano keyboard but are much larger and with more space in between —with loose fists. Each baton is connected via metal wires running to a corresponding clapper in each bell.

“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, a piano player would be drawn to it,’ but I think a mallet percussionist would,” Dzuris said. “It’s more similar to that — like playing the marimba or xylophone or something. But I’ve yet to convince the percussion faculty of that.”

In addition to her performance duties, Dzuris also teaches CU students to play the archaic instrument. (She also instructs music appreciation and performing arts classes.)

Tillman’s clock is located on the floor where the clavier is located. But that’s not Dzuris’ department.

“Every time the clock rings it’s not me running up there every 15 minutes,” Dzuris said. “But when you hear anything else come from the tower — other than the time — it’s somebody up there playing, whether it’s myself or a student.”

Originally a pipe organ player, Dzuris took up the carillon while attending the University of Michigan. Curious to see if an actual person was playing the bells that rang on that campus, one day she wandered up into the instrument tower. She took up the carillon in earnest around 1989. Ten years later she came to the Upstate specifically for the Clemson carillonneur position.

“There are close to 200 carillons in North America,” Dzuris said. “You really have to go where the work is.”

Earplugs aren’t part of the gig. Dzuris usually plays with the hatch leading up to the tower’s apex closed. She listens to her output via two monitor speakers, which are hooked up to a mixing board that balances sound from several microphones in the bell tower.

“Bells closer to the hatch sound louder to us even though they’re not sounding any louder to the audience,” Dzuris said. “Generally 150 feet away from the tower is the best place to listen.”

For her seasonal shows, Dzuris encourages listeners to make it an event by bringing a picnic and a blanket or chairs. Inclement weather is the bane of the carrillonneur’s existence. Rain equals no audience. However, even if it’s stormy, Dzuris will play her set. (Heavy traffic can also put a damper on a show, with engine noise overpowering the bells.)

The carillon and the tower were not designed in conjunction. So when the contraption was installed in 1987, the gear had to be lifted with a crane and taken through the void of a removed clock face. The clavier was purchased from an Atlanta company and the bells were all cast in France. Clemson contracts with a bell founder for annual maintenance, much like one would have their car tuned up periodically. However, occasionally repairs are needed in-between those appointments.

“Sometimes the vibrations will work one of the connections loose and a pin will drop out,” Dzuris said. “I’ll usually call (the department of) facilities if something like that happens. But if it’s on the weekend and I have a concert coming up, it involves some creative climbing. I try not to do that.”

Equally at home with lyrical ballad or ’70s arena rock, Dzuris realizes her instrument does have some limitations.

“I can tell you what doesn’t work well: really quick repeated notes,” Dzuris said. “Lots of notes can get muddy. Unlike a piano, when you lift up your hand the sound doesn’t stop. If I play a scale it turns into this big mass of sound. Sometimes chords can clash. People think it needs to be tuned, but it’s tuned when they cast the bells. You get over it. It’s just the nature of the bells.”

Even though she was literally drawn to the carillon, the instrument’s ability to shift from the ethereal to the bombastic isn’t Dzuris’ favorite aspect. This is a stone-cold power trip.

“You can hear the bells a quarter of a mile away,” Dzuris said. “That sensation that you’re getting to that many people … it becomes part of their Clemson experience to hear the bells as they’re going from here to there and to class. One of the goals of the Class of ’43 was that when students leave Clemson — no matter where in the world they were — when they heard a bell tolling it would remind them of the experience here and the Clemson family. That whole idea is really cool to me and I like being part of that.”