Leadership in Music

Unesco Recognises Belgian Carillon Culture

Photo courtesy Toren & Beiaard

Mobile carillon owned by the Mechelen Carillon School (Photo courtesy Toren & Beiaard)

Intangible Heritage:
Safeguarding the carillon culture from Belgium inscribed on the Register of Best Safeguarding Practices

Paris – The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, meeting at UNESCO Headquarters until 28 November 2014, inscribed “Safeguarding of the carillon culture” from Belgium on the Register of Best Safeguarding Practices.

Description of the Carillon Safeguarding Programme

The art of making music with bells (carillon) is performed by carillonners, traditionally during market and festive days. The programme to safeguard carillon culture exists in seventy-six cities and villages of Belgium and in thirty countries worldwide.

The primary objectives are to preserve the components of historic carillon culture (practices, repertoire, instruments, music, oral and written history), and to ensure the continuity and sustainable development of carillon music as a living heritage that fosters cultural identity and social cohesion. Safeguarding efforts have also focused on preserving and restoring historic carillons with many formerly silent carillons now once more active.

Transmission is secured by a number of educational initiatives, of which the Mechelen carillon school is the most important. Efforts have also been undertaken to revitalize the carillon, including promotion of new arrangements, compositions and genres of music.

The programme combines respect for tradition with a willingness to innovate, constantly seeking new ways to safeguard carillon culture in contemporary society. It also promotes proven best practices, as well as a deep respect for local players in the field, building on cooperation among actors.

The Register of Best Safeguarding Practices

The Register of Best Safeguarding Practices allows States Parties, communities and other stakeholders to share successful safeguarding experiences and examples of how they surmounted challenges faced in the transmission of their living heritage, its practice and knowledge to the future generation. These methods and approaches should be useful as lessons and models that can be adapted to other circumstances, including those in developing countries.

Mechelen Carillon School

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has added Belgium’s carillon culture to its register of intangible cultural heritage. Carillons are musical instruments made up of bells normally located in bell towers.

Bell towers began as alarm beacons in the flat Flemish landscape and later were built on to churches and cathedrals. They have been used for playing music since at least 1510.

Mechelen is home to a renowned carillon school, which attracts musicians from across the world for master classes and the chance to play live. Mechelen is unique in having four carillons, as well as a new mobile carillon (pictured) owned by the school.

Unesco includes the carillon culture under the heading of best safeguard practices, pointing out that the programme to protect the practice of carillon playing exists in 76 municipalities in the country, as well as 30 other countries worldwide. It also aims to ensure the restoration of historic instruments.

Flemish culture minister Sven Gatz issued a joint statement with his French-speaking counterpart, Joëlle Milquet, pointing out that the admission of carillon to the list was the only example of best practices this year, “an important recognition for Belgium’s carillon players and all those who work for the carillon culture in this country”.

“Carillon music has been giving our towns and cities a unique atmosphere for five centuries,” Gatz said. “I hope we may be able to enjoy our carillons for much longer still.”

Jef Denyn playing the carillon in the Saint Rombouts tower, Mechelen, ca. 1920 (boximagecaption)

Jef Denyn playing the carillon in the Saint Rombouts tower, Mechelen, ca. 1920

Royal Carillon School ‘Jef Denyn’ Mechelen

International High Institute for Carillon Art and Campanology
Under high protection of Her Majesty Queen Fabiola of Belgium

The Royal Carillon School is the oldest and most famous carillon school. Students from all over the world learn to play the biggest music instrument. Russians call the carillon ‘Malinovi Zvon’ , which means ‘Sound of Mechelen’. This proves the eminence of the carillon school as a cultural institution. The government of Flanders titled the school ‘Cultural Ambassador of Flanders’.

The school was founded in 1922 by renowned carillonneur Jef Denyn, in whose honor it was later named, with the support of Americans Herbert H. Hoover, John D. Rockefeller, and William Gorham Rice. The first institution of its kind in the world, the school soon gained international acclaim and has trained carillonneurs from nations across the globe, including China, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ghana, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

FLI Carillon School 't Schipke

The Royal Carillon School is housed in the historic building ‘t Schipke (The Ship), Mechelen, Belgium

The Royal Carillon School is housed in the historic building ‘t Schipke (The Ship), adjoining the Hof van Busleyden, where the school’s carillon and museum are found. Its facilities include four practice keyboards, a carillon offering extensive practice time, pianos, a library of sheet music, and an important historical archive. The museum and library holdings include an international collection of bells, carillon keyboards, rare books, manuscripts, and art objects.

The school can be visited by prior appointment.
F. de Merodestraat 63
2800 Mechelen
Tel: 32 (0)15 20 47 92


Sources: http://www.unesco.org / http://www.flanderstoday.eu: article written by Alan Hope / http://www.carillonschool.be/

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