Like a cricket’s plangent trill
which our sudden words have primed,
its din and clangor still
resonant with age and time,
whose desperate tongue now peals
inside its hollow shell,
pendulums, and sings
out to our raucous hell,
let the echo of its human tolls
chime the hours of our souls,
whose untuned clangings ring
monstrous changes in everything:
but never from its boisterous height
will the incessant hum of bees
restore our unsingable fragilities,
or the carols of the summer write
again such flowers on the understory,
such trumpets as the seasons choir,
such voices as the heavens glory,
to which these anguished bells aspire.
I wrote this after Charlie Hamlen died. Charlie was our friend and our second artistic advisor at the Tippet Rise Art Center. We were lucky to be able to collaborate on concerts with him during two idyllic summers. Charlie founded the classical section of IMG, as well as Classical Action, which raises money for musicians who are HIV-positive. He was at the time also the Artistic Advisor for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.
I began the poem on the morning of a day in Dublin filled with poetry. We had lunch with Simon Callow at Chapter One. Later that same day we had dinner with Seamus Heaney’s widow, Marie, and our friends from Poetry Ireland. We exhibited that day two paintings by W. B. Yeats in the Irish Senate, and heard many wonderful poets read there for the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in Ireland. We later heard young poets read at Poetry Ireland. So our heads were filled with all kinds of sounds.
While filming the first version of “Carillon” in front of a Franciscan abbey near Cong in County Mayo, the sudden increase in incidental noise from the fields, provoked by our presence, provided the key to the second version. I reduced the many crickets in the poem to one (Charlie), who had similarly instigated unbridled music-making in the fields of Tippet Rise.
As the Indian summer had extended itself into winter that week in Ireland, the sounds of bees and cows stayed with us after summer ended. The ruins of churches and their steeples anchor the Irish landscape in the same way, even after religion itself has gone out of favor. The sound of bells from the carillons ring out across the agrarian landscape, the way Charlie’s sounds survive from the Indian summer of his time with us into the cold Montana winter, when his echo warms us.
My grandfather was friends with Francis Cardinal Spellman, who got me lessons with Charles Courboin, the organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the early 1960s, where I terrified churchgoers. I also played the organs in the various churches my grandfather had built. I played Hungarian Rhapsodies there, spasmodically and without legato, as I was spoiled as a pianist by the easy legato of the sostenuto pedal. I would also throw the carillon and its short keyboard into the friskas. Liszt loved the Hungarian Roma bands who moved around the villages of his childhood and who influenced his Rhapsodies, with their Turkish Janissaries of cymbals, triangles, and drums. Liszt aside, I am sure no one in the metropolitan area wants to be reminded of my time on the carillon, but here it is.
September 29th, 2018