Art Biz with Liz: Arranging for the Carillon

When it comes to music theory, I’m at a little bit of a loss. I can read notes and rhythms, but I struggle with things such as the nuances between types of chords. I was a little bit nervous, then, when it came to arranging my own piece of music, particularly for the carillon, of which I’m still a beginner at. Luckily, I had a plethora of resources at my fingertips and chose a song I was already familiar with, “All I ask of You” by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The song already works well on its own, and it’s recognizable if you were to play it on a piano or hum the melody. It has a strong melody with existing movement and shape, which made my job a lot easier.

A huge part of arranging the piece was considering the instrument I was arranging for, the carillon. I referenced several existing resources, like “Composing for Carillon” by Joey Brink in NewMusicBox magazine and “Arranging for Carillon” by Rachel. I also referenced existing piano scores. Doing so made me think about the physical limitations of playing the song the carillon. For the most part, when playing on the piano, it’s easy to traverse across different areas on the keyboard. With the carillon, on the other hand, quick jumps between octaves or otherwise maintaining a large gap between the hands or feet can be challenging. It may be difficult to play an interval of more than a tenth in the feet, for example, or more than two octaves in the hands due to the spacing of the keys, which are farther apart than those on a piano.

Another interesting aspect of arranging for the carillon is acknowledging that once a bell is struck, it stops on its own accord. There are several things to consider related to this. For one, it can be difficult to play repeated notes in the lower register, as the heaviness of the clapper can make the batons for lower bells take longer to return. Additionally, the inability to dampen the bells can make it difficult to write sudden harmonic changes, which can sound blurred. As the carillon produces rich, thick sound and lower notes can be sustained for quite some time, it’s advised to spread out harmonies and reduce thick cords. This includes avoiding unnecessary repetition of chords and combining two voices into one. The bass register isn’t the best for busy rhythms and chordal accompaniment, but I learned that you can play around with moving them up an octave or two or reducing some notes/rhythms for simplicity. These sound properties of the carillon are different from some other instruments and are worth considering when arranging a piece. For my arrangement, this meant removing some harmonies from the bass clef and considering ways to incorporate them elsewhere.

Carillons are also interesting in that each instrument is different. Some carillons have 2-3 octaves, while others might have 4.5+ octaves (such as our two carillons at U of M). I arranged my piece with the Baird Carillon in mind, but if you want to ensure that your song sounds okay on all instruments, Perfecto notes that the safest choice is “to avoid keys with more than three flats or sharps” (Arranging for Carillon). Historical carillons were often tuned in meantone, which means the intervals were tuned to sound best in C major. Key signatures with more than 3 flats or sharps, depending on the instrument, can sound out of tune. The original “All I Ask of You” was in D-flat major, but I arranged my piece in D major, which I later transposed to F major.

As I mentioned earlier, “All I Ask of You,” already has a well-defined melody. The simpler musical texture and limited number of independent voices allow for greater clarity when playing on the carillon. This made it easier to choose which elements were absolutely essential to the piece early on in the arrangement process. After creating a skeleton score, I received feedback from my carillon instructor each week until other elements such as dynamics were added.

This was my first time arranging something, and it was actually quite fun! Now onto playing the piece.



Perfecto, Rachel. “Arranging for Carillon: An Online Guide.”

Elizabeth S

Hello! My name is Elizabeth, and I'm a senior who enjoys writing about the presence of art in everyday life. Through this blog series, I'll be documenting my experience with creative writing, music, and more on campus. Enjoy!

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