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9 facts you didn't know about the carillon

24 April 2018
Carillon's 90th birthday hits a high note

90 years ago, the carillon bells arrived on our shores and were transported through Sydney to their new home at the University. To celebrate this milestone, we look at nine facts you might not know about the carillon.

This week marks the 90th anniversary of the carillon at the University. To celebrate, the University is hosting a special recital featuring our carillonists on Tuesday 24 April.

The University of Sydney War Memorial Carillon was dedicated on Anzac Day in 1928 to commemorate those in the University of Sydney community who died during the First World War.

The recital starts at 4.30pm as the sun goes down, and in the morning we will remember the Anzacs at our annual Dawn Service. All are welcome to this free recital.

Crowd watching the bells be installed

The carillon bells arriving at the University and being installed. Image reference: the University of Sydney archives.  

1. It’s a crowdfunded memorial

The University of Sydney War Memorial Carillon was dedicated on Anzac Day in 1928 to commemorate the 197 undergraduates, graduates and staff who died in the First World War.

In one of our earliest crowdfunding projects, money for the memorial was donated by families, individuals, organisations and faculties across Australia. By 1924, £17,397 had been raised (around $2.25 million in today’s money) and building commenced.

2. Rings a bell

Carillons are the largest musical instruments in the world. Consisting of a series of fixed bells, sound is made when they are struck by clappers.

Originally our carillon was made up of 49 bells, however in 1973, the carillon was rebuilt and currently consists of 54 bells and a range of four and a half octaves.

3. You may have been spelling it wrong

Despite the deceptive pronounciation of carillon that rhymes with 'million' – the word carillon is actually descended from the French 'quadrillon' which translates to 'four bells'. 

4. Heavy metal

The bell weighs 4250kg – the equivalent of an average adult hippopotamus.

Carillon on George Street

The carillon travelled to Sydney by boat from the United Kingdom. The image above is of the bells being transported via George Street to the University. Image reference: University of Sydney archives

5. Made in England

The 23 lower bells were cast by the Taylor bell-foundry of Loughborough, England. The upper 33 treble bells were cast by the Whitechapel bell-foundry of London. 

The Carillon in Canberra

The National Carillon in Canberra. Image reference: ABC. 

6. Family ties

Venture to Canberra and you’ll find the National Carillon, which was dedicated in 1970 as a sister carillon to the one sitting in the Quad. These are the only two carillons in Australia.

7. Meet the carillonist

Amy Johansen

Amy Johansen, University of Sydney. 

The woman behind the music is our carillonist Amy Johansen, who plays in more than 60 graduations per year, as well as recitals and special events.

She leads an enthusiastic team of 10 honorary carillonists who share the playing duties. 

8. Pump up the jukebox

Song requests for special occasions are not uncommon, and our talented carillonists are always keen to give it a whirl. Highlights include the Game of Thrones and Harry Potter themes, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and everyone’s favourite Valentine’s Day tune: Love is in the air.

9. Who could forget Sandstorm?

In October of 2015, in response to a memorable April Fool's Day hoax, the University’s radio group, SURG FM, in a mission to raise money for youth mental health initiative Headspace, stormed the clocktower to finally have Darude's 'Sandstorm' played on the carillon.