D.c. Gigs: For Whom The Bell Tolls (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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D.C. Gigs: For Whom The Bell Tolls

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Now, moving from one kind of music to another, we head to the Washington National Cathedral, which is about to have quite the big weekend, as it opens its doors for services for the first time since August's earthquake. In this month's edition of "D.C. Gigs," we meet the man who makes the Cathedral's bells ring out and find out what inspired him to pursue a rather different kind of musical instrument.

MR. EDWARD NASSAR

00:00:32
My name is Edward Nassar and I'm the cathedral carillonneur at Washington National Cathedral. The bells are played manually from a keyboard. The word carillon means "bells that are struck." To play the bells of the carillon, I have to go 160 feet up inside the central tower.

MR. EDWARD NASSAR

00:00:56
And here we are inside the keyboard room, where the carillon keyboard is situated and this where I actually sit at the bench and play. It sort of looks like a large organ console with tracker wires that lead up to the bells. It's an entirely mechanical action, there's nothing electronic about it. So it's kind of sensitive to the weather and this room is climate controlled. We have a heat and air-conditioning and it needs to be watertight.

MR. EDWARD NASSAR

00:01:23
What we can see now from the floor of this cabin are the bells that are suspended above us. There are 53 cast bronze bells to this carillon. This is the largest bell. It's 12 tons, you could stand up inside of that bell. This bell has tolled for the funerals of Ronald Regan and for President Ford. This tower, it's interesting to play in because while I can -- there's windows and I can see outside. I can't see the audience at all. So I sort of have to imagine the audiences out there and here you just have to know they're there.

MR. EDWARD NASSAR

00:02:02
It's an interesting story about how I became carillonneur. I was a pianist and I was in music school and I wanted to learn all the various keyboard instruments. When I learned there was one called the carillon and was made of bells, I didn't quite know what to make of it and once I went up the 300 foot tower and saw those bells for the first time, bell so large I could walk inside, I was hooked.

MR. EDWARD NASSAR

00:02:28
At no point in my life did I say, I'm going to grow up and become a church musician. It was just my path that led me here and it's a happy surprise. Playing the carillon is like a full-body aerobic workout. Your hands are going in one direction, your feet are going in the other direction. You are completely responsible for the volume of that instrument. So if you want the 12-ton bell to play loudly then you're pressing really hard with your feet.

MR. EDWARD NASSAR

00:02:57
What I enjoy so much about this huge gargantuan instrument is that it can be played with such sensitivity. You have the greatest diverse audience when you play the carillon here. you play for presidents and queens and kings and many dignitaries. I try to be sensitive to the neighborhood. I've heard or two neighbors that would do their gardening during the carillon recital times and they would have contests has to who guess the most number of hymns that I was playing.

MR. EDWARD NASSAR

00:03:30
So I'm thinking to myself, my goodness, these people really are listening so I better not disappoint them. I was scheduled to have a meeting with some cathedral officials and then all of a sudden the ground started shaking and we had the earthquake and I was just saying, Well, you know, I was supposed to be up there in that tower at the 1:00 o'clock hour, but at least I was safely on the ground when the cathedral started rocking and rolling. I'm just looking forward to the day when I'm back on the keyboard and playing the sound for the neighborhood.

SHEIR

00:04:08
That was the National Cathedral's Edward Nassar talking with "Metro Connection's" Peter Domingos. To see photos of Nassar at his carillon keyboard, head to our website, metroconnection.org. And if you have a distinctively "D.C. Gig" you think we should feature, we want to hear about it. Our email address is metro@wamu.org.
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