The Guild of Carilloneurs in North America (GCNA) held their annual “congress” at St. Stephen’s church in Cohasset. St. Stephen’s has a 57-bell carillon — this gives it a range of over four octaves, and apparently qualifies it to be called a “great carillon” (it’s the largest carillon in New England). There aren’t that many carillons with that kind of range in North America, and as you’d expect, the GCNA annual congress has been held here before to take advantage of this instrument.
Our apartment is right next door to St. Stephen’s, so we have a front row seat for the eight recitals spread out over five days. I’ve been working most days, so I didn’t have a chance to actually sit and listen to an entire recital, but what I heard sounded quite good. However, we also had a front row seat to hear eleven exam candidates. I’m not sure what the exam was — presumably some kind of professional qualification for carilloneurs — but the skill level and musicianship of the exam candidates covered quite a range. Some of the candidates were, in my opinion, excellent musicians, and I really enjoyed hearing them play. At the other end of the range, a couple of the exam candidates were mediocre at best (I’m being polite). And, to be honest, I didn’t think much of one or two of the experienced carilloneurs; technical skill and musical intelligence don’t always go together.
But overall, the good music outweighed the mediocre music. We got to hear free recitals of excellent music performed by professional musicians, with composers ranging from J.S. Bach to Florence Price to contemporary compositions by young composers. There was even a recital of music by women composers, which unfortunately I had to miss. It was fun being next door to the GCNA congress. And how many people can say they’ve heard eight carillon recitals in five days?