The GCNA Bulletin 2005 vol. 54

An English translation of Dr. André Lehr´s Campanology Textbook by Kimberly Schafer

 (This is the full length version of the book review which the editors of Carillon News published in an abridged form in Carillon News).

    This book is based on lectures which Dr. Lehr gave from 1956 to 1971 first to the Dutch Carillon Guild and later at the Dutch and Belgian carillon schools and published in book form as „Leerboek der campanolgie“ in 1976. It covers the same basic material as Winfried Ellerhorst´s „Handbuch der Glockenkunde“ written in 1938 and published posthumously in 1957 – the casting, tuning, and installation of bells, the accompanying equipment, towers, bell chambers, acoustics, ect. – but with the emphasis on carillons and carillon bells rather than on the ringing bells and peals making up the bulk of German installations and without Ellerhorst´s chapters on the history of bell founding, their liturgical use, or the role of an expert in judging them. It is the second English edition of Lehr´s book, first translated and supplemented wth material about the history of bell founding and change ringing by R. M. Ayres in 1985. Like the previous two editions, this new one bears the stamp of a man who dedicated his life to the casting of bells and building of carillons and contains a wealth of interesting and valuable information based on Dr. Lehr´s expertise and years of experience.
    The bulk of what is discussed is still valid today and though Dr. Lehr did update certain parts during his work with Ms. Schafer (for example he added a section on the computer run automatic playing system, on his use of computers to design bell profiles, on the use of internal vertical tuning grooves and added a number of new drawings) most of the original 30-year-old text was thus not so much revised as supplemented. One does however occasionally encounter dated material such as the picture of the so-called „modern“ clapper on page 76 used in the original edition though such clappers have long-since been replaced by newer models. In spite of the introduction of the European standard console in 1982 the drawing of the carillon console which appears in the new GCNA edition of Lehr´s book is exactly the same used in the original publication, i. e. a Dutch console with only 1 ½ octaves of pedals and the lowest half octave of notes missing in the keys. This even though the accompanying text has been in this case revised, the old Dutch and Belgian standards eliminated and the European standard introduced. On the other hand Dr. Lehr makes no mention of the world standard console adopted at the world congress in 2006, and it is regrettable that neither the translator nor the editor added a note referring to what can only be considered a landmark development 30 years in the making and one whose significance can by no means be underestimated by those who have fought with adapting to all manner of different and sometimes oddly constructed playing consoles.

    More importantly, although Dr. Lehr is fond of making sweeping and authoritative sounding statements, his book presents a very particular viewpoint, namely that of the post war Dutch tradition of casting and tuning bells and building carillons as embodied by the Eijsbouts foundry, which he managed for several decades. It should be therefore more accurately titled „Textbook of Campanology Aimed at Producing Carillons and Carillon Bells in the Netherlands Mostly for Dutch and Belgian Cities“. An important part of that work was the need to develop and employ economic ways of producing the large numbers of bells required for a carillon quickly and cheaply due to an indigenous clientel consisting of small towns with limited budgets and the fierce competition with the rival foundry barely 20 kilometers distant. In his book Dr. Lehr thus concentrates on the cement sand casting method employed by Eijsbouts for this purpose and which allows a founder to produce larger numbers of bells more quickly as they cool faster and can be removed more quickly from the casting pit which can be made ready for the next casting all the sooner.          The use of vertical tuning grooves on the inside of a bell was another way of cutting production costs and saving time. They allowed Lehr to reduce or eliminate disturbing beats in bells which would have otherwise been unacceptable and to use bells which other founders would have rejected and recast. These beats were in large part caused by  the structural irregularities of the bell due to the quality of the bell bronze used and by the casting and cooling process. However in all fairness, I personally doubt if a group of professional carillonneurs listening to a collection of well-tuned Eijsbouts bells cast at the same time would be able to distinguish between those which had vertical tuning grooves and those which did not and would not care as long as they were satisfied with the bell´s timbre and tuning. And when Lehr states that, regarding bell bronze „The usual composition is approximately 79% copper, 19% tin, and 2% other metals, such as lead, zinc, iron, ect.“ he is also expressing his preference for a quality of bronze in line with these necessities. The Limburger Guidelines which formulate the criteria German campanological experts use to judge bells since 1957 stipulate that „true“ bell bronze contains 22% tin and 78 % copper with no more than 2% impurities and a minimum of 20% pure tin. Dr. Lehr´s preference for bronze with less tin may have also been influenced by a second factor: Used to the sound of many Dutch and Belgian carillons with only small, short-ringing bells and 17th century Hemony instruments with their characteristically dry timbre, he once told me he found the sound of very resonant carillon bells disturbing, as the music played on them sounded confused due to their long ringing time, i. e. an effect similiar to that of a piano played with a continually depressed damper pedal. Using bronze with a lower tin content was one of his ways of ameliorating this effect. This may be one of the things he meant when he wrote „From these metals the most beautiful sounding bells can be cast.“ However, like bell founders in general, Dr. Lehr was not a professional musician and didn´t have their viewpoint, experience, or ear.
    Regarding his major third bell, judging by his statements in this book, he believed that carillonneurs don´t like it because it has a different timbre from the bells they are trained to play and that they should accept it as it is – something whose sound
is very different from that of a traditional minor third bell. However, although carillonneurs are generally very tolerant because most are used to making the best of a large scope of instruments in various conditions, some better and some less well-tuned, the timbre of the major third bell – at least in the first decade following its invention – had a distinctive quality which many carillonneurs found deviated too markedly from their own ideal. And though major third bells eliminate the problem caused by the clash between major and minor thirds when playing a major third on the carillon, the dissonance reappears as soon as one plays a minor third, so a carillon made of major third bells just substitutes one musical problem for another. In spite of this, were major third bells having a timbre pleasing to most carillonneurs ever to be developed, they could provide an interesting and welcome alternative to minor third bells.

    In spite of the wealth of information and the various revisions and additions the book is also noted for some important omissions. For someone who devoted his life to building, enlarging, and renovating carillons Lehr provides surprisingly little information about many aspects of the instrument. The section on transmissions is based on the types common in the Netherlands with the same drawings used in the original edition supplemented by a few additional ones. The section about the carillon bellframe is only 1 ½ pages long and shows only one design. The section on carillon consoles makes no mention of the type or quality of wood or the material best employed to cover the pedal with, there is nothing about the quality of stainless steel recommended for transmission wires or component parts – both can have an important effect on the durability of important parts of the finished instrument. Lehr also makes no mention of the use of phosphorus-bronze to remove excessive amounts of impurities from bell bronze but also lead to undesireable porosity or the practice of casting bells upside down used by some founders in order to allow gases to escape better.

    Finally it is important to stress that for all its sometimes detailled information this book is all about the theory of bell casting and carillon building – a particular set of ideals propagated by Dr. Lehr. This is its salient limitation. For it is not the theory but the practice which we are confronted with in our daily lives which is important to us - not how a bell should sound or a carillon should be built according to any theories, but the hows and whys of the ones we buy and play and listen to. In order to fully understand the implications of much of this work and the philosophy of the man who fathered it, it is essential that the reader should acquaint himself with the concrete examples of what Dr. Lehr´s teaching produced, to experience what the theory actually sounds like and how it works when it takes on concrete form. I would recommend those interested to thoroughly examine the carillons in Clearwater and Gainsville, Florida, listening to the timbre of the bells, checking their ringing time, looking at the quality of the casting and the checking the make up of the bronze in the Gainsville bourdon. Examine the keyboard of the carillon of the University library in Louvain Belgium and the condition of the bellframe, compare the profiles and weights of the four highest bells and decide how well you think the timbre and ringing time of the low B natural bell Lehr cast for the instrument fits in with the other large bells cast by Gillet and Johnston. Check the amount of metal removed from the largest bells of the Eijsbouts carillon in St. Rombouts Cathedral when they were tuned, see how well they were cleaned, look at the condition of the metal bellframe and the quality of wood used to build the keyboard and listen to the timbre of the bells. Examine the bell Dr. Lehr cast for the 18th century Van den Gheyn carillon of the Dutch Reformed Church in Nijkerk, ask the resident carillonneur how satisified he is with the results and decide for yourself how well you think it fits in. Look at the carillon Dr. Lehr delivered to the Market Church in Wiesbaden in 1986, see how well the ringing bell cast by Kindler which Lehr incorporated into the carillon fits in with the rest of the bells, compare the instrument with the carillon in Berlin-Tiergarten which he produced only a year later but if not in all still in many important ways according to my specifications which in many ways differed in many significant ways from those set out in his book. Compare the sound of the C1 bell in Wiesbaden with that of the same bell in Berlin and decide for yourself which pleases you best.

    Although the publication of this book as a Bulletin gives it and its contents the appearence of being endorsed by the GCNA, the members should be aware that there are many other approaches to bell founding and tuning and carillon building than those in this book. German bell founders traditionally cast bells with great care, aiming to come as close as possible to the desired tone and to tune as little as possible when finished. They view the large amounts of metal removed by the Dutch during tuning as ruinous and would never use internal vertical tuning grooves, preferring to cast in a manner which would make their use unnecessary or to melt down and recast a bell with marked defects. That being said, their viewpoint and methods are based on casting bells singly or in small numbers for peals rather than in large numbers for carillons. And that, although the tuning of the carillon bells of the few instruments Friedrich Wilhelm Schilling cast after WW II was generally acceptable, that of all other German founders since then has been substandard if not downright miserable when compared with those Eijsbouts produced. The North American carillon tradition was first established by English founders between the two world wars and the instruments developed by Godfrey for the Taylor Bell Foundry contain many features differing from those in Lehr´s book. In his book „Beiaard-Kwaliteits-Standard“ published by the Belgian Carillon School in 2001 carillonneur Marc van Eyck offers his own detailled vision of almost every aspect of finished carillon bells and of carillon construction and maintenance, including many points not covered by Lehr, such as where to listen to the carillon, practice possibilities, marketing the carillon, working with architects, how to draw up a good contract to acquire a carillon, ect. He draws not only on Lehr but on a wealth of other sources and on his own years of practical experience as well. More importantly, in contrast to Lehr, van Eyck provides a thoroughly contemporary view taken not from from the standpoint of a founder and businessman but from that of a carillonneur and musician whose chief interest lies in the aquisition of, playing, listening to, and maintenance of a fine instrument.

    Finally a word must be said about Ms. Schafer´s translation. Good translation is a difficult and arduous, and generally unrewarding task requiring much expertise, talent, practice, and time. Dutch is not a common language. So although Ms. Schafer deserves praise for doing her best and working hard, unfortunately the result is less than satisfactory. She not only sometimes falls into the trap of literal translation, for example rendering „klangkleur“ as „sound color“ and thus inventing a new English term rather than employing the usual „tone color“ (at least at some point she does add the alternative and commonly used term „timbre“). While skimming through the book I randomly came across two wrong translations. When Dr. Lehr discusses the ratio of the overtones to that of the hum tone, he provides a table showing the amplitudes of the various constituent tones to document the minimum standard one should be able to expect from a bell which is, if not of exceptional, then at least your run-of-the-mill bell. On page 30 Schafer translates Lehr´s original phrase „a bell of at least acceptable quality“ as a „poor quality bell.“ Unfortunately Schafer made a more serious error when dealing with a section discussing problems that can arise due to the thinning of the bell wall during tuning (p. 38). Here she translates Lehr´s original „In order to avoid such difficulties the inside of the correct profile will be thickened by a few percentage points.“ as „Similiarly, one should avoid making the inside profile of the bell a bit too thick.“ Since both of Schafer´s translations clearly contradict the sense of the surrounding statements, one wonders why her own sense of logic didn´t alert her – and all the others who helped her with the translation - to her errors. On the other hand Ms. Schafer did all her readers a great service in eliminating all those empty verbal mannerisms such as „It goes without saying“ that Dr. Lehr was so addicted to and used constantly throughout his book so that her translation is nicely concise.

    To sum it up, when reading this book one should take into account the fact that the bulk of it was written several decades ago,  represents only one specific approach to the art of casting and constructing carillons, provides more theoretical rather than practical information, is written from the viewpoint of a founder rather than a carillonneur and musician, and is a less-than-perfect translation. It is nonetheless a source of interesting and valuable information compiled by one of the most eminent and industrious persons who devoted his life to not only casting carillons but reseaching and writing an astounding number of publications about them. That being said, for the reasons given above I would recommend approaching this one armed with sieve good at enabling one to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Jeffrey Bossin

© Jeffrey Bossin