Carillon Rings Bell For Murphy

The Early Show, bell tower concert
CBS/The Early Show
The carillon is the way bells in bell towers are played. Like most people, CBS News Correspondent Melinda Murphy had never seen one until she visited Princeton University.

There's no hunchback pulling ropes there. Robin Austin is the instrument's modern-day Quasimoto. His actual title is carillineur. "It's a French word, meaning 'one who plays the carillon,'" Austin explains.

To become a carillineur, you play a practice instrument in the basement, which much like a piano. Well, sort of.

Showing his instrument, Austin explains, "these lower level keys are the naturals or the white keys and up here are the groups of sharps and flats."

The hands play the treble clef and the feet play the bass notes. It's a lot to coordinate.

Austin quips, "I kind of call it, like, a musical nautilus."

And it takes a long time to learn, too, since you can't exactly practice in your bedroom - just ask Austin's student of seven years, Melissa.

She used to come from New Hope, Pa., to Princeton, N.J., every week. She says, "Twice a week actually. Once for Sunday lessons and once to practice."

Now, Melissa is a student at Princeton, which makes practicing easier. All she has to do is put on the right shoes - it's hard to play in heels - and show off what she's learned.

Melissa hopes to be a certified professional like Austin - who is one of just 120 in the country.

She says, "Each year, they give out three separate pieces that you have to learn. You submit a recording. And then, if your recording passes, you get to go and take the actual examination."

Of course, that means playing the real carillon. First, you have to get to it.

On the way up the 137 steps, Murphy and Austin stopped to look at the four largest bells.

He says, "We're inside the biggest bell - 12,9996 pounds. And this is the clapper. So if you kind of gently push on it, we'll get a sound."

All told, there are 67 bells. This carillon was built in 1927, a gift from the class of 1892. But it's been updated since.

Austin explains, "We took the roof off the towers in 1992 when we renovated the carillon and a crane dropped all the big bells, obviously, in first. And then we built the carillon from the big bells to the smaller bells."

The big difference between the practice cabinet and the real thing are the bells themselves, which Austin explains have a direct mechanical linkage.

And, boy, what a difference they make. It's like the whole room fills up with music.

Austin notes, "You're definitely in the middle of the instrument.

But just remember, every time you practice, you're giving a concert. And if you make a mistake, the whole campus hears.

Mistake or no mistake, folks just love hearing the carillon - which is why on every summer Sunday, people flock for the weekly concert Sundays at 1 p.m.. Some relax, others play cards and a few even bring lunch.

A 3-year-old who was asked why she liked the sound answers, "because they're bumpy."

Well, she might just be a carillineur in the making. Most folks start because they heard one played. That what happened to Tin-Shi Tam, the guest recitalist on the day Murphy and The Early Show were there. The 45-minute concert included everything from classical pieces to Scott Joplin rags.