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Bells of Diliman ring again on Dec. 18

By Julie M. Aurelio
First Posted 01:32:00 12/16/2007

Filed Under: Paskong Pinoy, history, University

ON TUESDAY, students of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, will get reacquainted with an old and nostalgic tradition--the gentle, distinct tolling of the 36 Dutch bells of the Carillon.

The 36 bells, forged from bronze and magnesium, will be formally turned over to the UP administration this week as part of the university's centennial rites.

It took two years and P14 million in contributions for the alumni to bring back the melodious chimes of the "Bells of Diliman," which suffered the cruelty of neglect and time during its 55 years.

"We thought it would be a very good flagship project for the centennial next year, to restore the Carillon and make it sing again," said Ponciano Rivera, president of the UP Alumni Association (UPAA).

A brainchild of National Artist for Architecture Juan Nakpil, UP Music Conservatory director Ramon Tapales and then UP president Bienvenido Gonzales, the bell tower was donated to the university in 1952 as a gift from the UPAA.

48 original bells
The 48 original bells, worth P200,000 at the time, were forged by the now defunct Van Bergen Co. in the Netherlands, with the largest bell weighing five tons. The bells were played using a clavier or wooden keyboard.

UP oldtimers and former students have fond memories of the Carillon which was played twice every day--once in the morning and again in the late afternoon.

Rufina Jorge, cochair of the restoration project, said the wind would carry the sound of the bells all the way to Cubao.

"Dormers were often awakened by the national anthem and the UP Hymn in the mornings," Jorge said in an interview.

But years of hot and cold weather, dust and neglect left the bells out of tune and out of commission.

Last time
Rivera said the last time the bells were played was during the 1988 Lantern Parade--a medley of the national anthem, UP Naming Mahal and Push On UP, the school cheer.

But as late as 2001, according to some students, they would hear nursery rhymes such as "London Bridge" and "Sing a Song of Six Pence" coming from the bell tower--albeit in a slower tempo and the chimes, faint.

In June 2005, the UPAA launched a restoration project for the Carillon in time for the 2008 university centennial.

Then UPAA president Jaime de los Santos was at the forefront of the ambitious move to replace the 48 bells which were covered in black dust and soot, some of them rusty and cracked.

Eight months ago, the alumni association purchased 36 new bells and a new wooden clavier from a Dutch company, Petit and Fritsen for P12 million.

Royal Bells Philippines engineer Matthew Bergers, the designer and technical drawer of the Carillon Project, said the new bells are made of 80 percent bronze and 20 percent zinc, phosphor and magnesium, according to a press statement from UP Communication students Mark Dantes and Kristine Servando.

Bergers, who accompanied the bells to the Philippines, said the largest bell weighs 635 kg and the smallest weighs 14 kg.

Amphitheater in Carillon Plaza
The UPAA is also set to raise funds for a small amphitheater near the bell tower, to be named Carillon Plaza. Rivera said they hope to finish it before the university centennial ends.

Repairs on the 130-foot tower would be shouldered by Antonio and Ching Evangelista, who pledged P3 million to P5 million to refurbish the paint and fixtures.

UP alumni in the country and abroad, in particular the United States, pitched in to raise some P14 million in cash and pledges, Rivera said.

Among the prominent donors were former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., Loida Nicolas-Lewis, Justice Minerva Gonzaga-Reyes, San Miguel Corp. and Smart Telecommunications.

The new bells were blessed on Dec. 4 in simple rites at the Carillon while the old set of bells was taken down to be cleaned.

"We will set up a display area for them at the University Theater. In fact, we were able to leave them outside the Carillon for a few days without anyone attempting to steal them. The bells are heavy, even for thieves," Rivera said.

Scraped and polished
Eleven of the small bells were scraped clean and polished so they could be played again outside the tower.

Unlike the old set of 48, which covers 4 octaves, the 36 new bells reach only up to three octaves.

But Royal Bells Philippines engineer Eduardo Otacan, who is part of the team that installed the new set and would be maintaining them, said the clavier has 12 more settings in case additional bells are bought.

"Now, we don't only have a wooden clavier for the bells, but we have a keyboard with a computer attached to it--as a back-up to the clavier," Otacan said.

The new bells glistened in the early morning sun as technicians played sample melodies to fine-tune it in time for Tuesday's opening.

Otacan said the Dutch supplier had installed some pre-programmed songs in the computer, which could be played at the push of a button.

The sample melodies include pop classics like "Imagine," "Yesterday," "Let It Be," "Love Me Tender" and "My Funny Valentine," as well as Christmas tunes like "Auld Lang Syne" and "We Wish You A Merry Christmas."

The repertoire also features Filipino songs such as "Bayan Ko" and "Lupang Hinirang."

"We also plan to program newer songs so students can ask the carillonneur to play their requests, say, on Valentine's Day," Otacan said.

A carillonneur, according to Jorge, is especially trained in playing the wooden clavier, which is connected to the 36 bells through its stainless steel cables, levers and foot pedals.

Among the notable carillonneurs in past decades were composer and conductor Jerry Dadap, Antonio Regalario, Tony Maige and Rey Lauron.

But not everybody can be a carillonneur, as it takes physical as well as musical prowess to tinker with the levers, using the right tempo and rhythm.

Who would play the bells?
One of the concerns of the UPAA is who will be tasked to play the bells and the clavier once the alumni association turns over the Carillon on Dec. 18.

"There's no definite plan as to who will play it after we turn it over to the UP administration," Jorge said.

Rivera said a trust fund for the training of carillonneurs, as well as the maintenance of the Carillon, was being worked out by the UPAA.

Another concern is the maintenance of the newly-refurbished Carillon.

Royal Bells Philippines has offered to clean and check the bells for two years, free of charge, but Jorge said they would have to sign a memorandum of agreement with UP on the upkeep of the bells.

"We're very concerned about the upkeep of the bells, we want to ensure that someone will take care of the bells regularly so that they won't fall into ruin again," Jorge said.

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