For Joe Dias, a bell went off. Literally.
Some friends invited him to the Jane A. Meyer Carillon Series, a summer concert series performed on the Missouri State carillon, the set of bells housed in the Meyer Library tower.
Joe began studying carillon with Chesman, and in May 2018, he became the first person to graduate from Missouri State with a Bachelor of Music emphasizing carillon performance.
Here and now
Just two things Joe loves about the carillon: its physicality and its immediacy.
“When you play the carillon,” he says, “you use all four limbs. The keyboard is made of rods, which are connected to wires that lead up to the bells. We play the keyboard with our fists. Whenever you push a key down with your fist, it pulls the clapper on the inside of the bell and strikes it. And you can play the first half of the keyboard with the foot pedals.”
The Missouri State carillon consists of 48 bells, and Joe says it’s closest to an organ — with one big distinction. “You can’t stop a note once you’ve sounded it,” he says.
At first, he found this intimidating. “I was so nervous to make a mistake. As I got more into the carillon, though, I’ve learned that people will be fine if I make a mistake. I mean, what are they going to do?” he laughs. “Storm the tower?”
And over time, he’s come to love the connection that exists between the intimacy of his performance space and the impact the bells make on campus.
“There is no hiding,” he says. “When I play, everyone outside hears it. And when I practice something people recognize, I know I’m making at least one person’s day.”
In fact, requesting songs on the carillon has become a campus tradition. Joe enjoys learning music from “Harry Potter,” “Mario Brothers” and Disney classics — many of which students request on Twitter to @MSUCarillon.
Bringing Harry Potter back to the carillon pic.twitter.com/3GaE2A23Dk
— MSU Meyer Carillon (@MSUCarillon) November 18, 2015
When he learns something outside typical carillon literature, Joe usually has to adapt it from piano music. “We have 48 notes because we have 48 bells, so that’s only four octaves. We have to condense the note range.”
He doesn’t mind putting in this extra effort, though. “That’s what I love about the carillon,” Joe says. “You can really make a person’s day by playing it.”
Walking to class in 4 degree weather while @MissouriState’s Bell is playing “Colors of the Wind” isn’t so bad.
— Hannah Romano (@romano_hannah) January 16, 2018
At home with music
That summer concert after his freshman year not only introduced Joe to a new instrument, it also lit the way to his career path.
He’s become deeply engaged with the profession of carilloning, and he’s found there’s a need for this highly specialized skill.
He says, “In the United States, there are almost 200 carillons at churches, universities and stand-alone towers.” And each of these needs experts like Joe.
Joe has attended two national congresses for the Guild of Carillonneurs, experiences he says “blew my mind.” And last summer, he completed an internship at Bok Tower Gardens in Florida. “It’s one of the most historic carillons in North America. Some of the bells are original to the 1920s, when the tower was built.”
In fall 2018, he’ll begin studying for his Master of Music. It’s a natural evolution of the drive that first led him up the nearly 200 steps of Missouri State’s carillon tower.
“Music, to me, is about expression. There’s different phrasing, different stylistic choices. Different people will make different choices in the same piece of music, and that’s what I love,” Joe says.
“It’s never ‘1 + 1 = 2.’ Everything is open to interpretation.”
- Producer: Jackie Crawford
- Videography: Jackie Crawford
- Editing: Lucie Amberg