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Review of the Master of the Bells, Frank DellaPenna

Written by Rebecca Donovan-Tifft


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The 'spirit' behind Cast In Bronze is Frank DellaPenna, a soft-spoken man not quite yet in his middle age. After his performances, Frank sells his records, speaks to fans, and attempts to avoid interviews by stating: "I'm not that interesting." Once convinced, however, a very interesting story unfolds.

Beginning with piano lessons at age 7, Frank has been classically trained for most of his life. Having outgrown several teachers, he was recommended to Mr. Law, the carillonneur for the 58-bell instrument in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Noting that necessary spark in his student, Mr. Law encouraged Frank to study the carillon. An obsession was born.

A few years later our spirit took his advancement recital in the states and then enrolled in the French Carillon School. Two years later, in 1976, the first American to enroll in the French school graduated as a "Master-Carillonneur." To this day he remains the only American to earn this degree from the French Carillon School.

As years went on, our spirit utilized his classical training to perform solo concerts on different instruments all over Europe, Canada, and the United States. The carillon, however, continued to haunt his thoughts. It was frustrating to know that so few people knew the history, or even the existence of, the carillon. For 500 years the carillon had graced towns (in church towers or universities, mostly) in western Europe, yet even there the instrument was only marginally known.

Our spirit envisioned the carillon as part of a musical ensemble, playing music not just for churches and feast days, but playing music for everyone. The carillon, however, is massive in size and had always been located in high towers, making any such ensemble impossible. What our spirit needed was a special carillon, one that he could transport. At the time, however, no such instrument existed, nor were the funds for such an endeavor available. Later, when presented with the opportunity to play on a traveling carillon, our spirit knew that his instincts were right. The people loved the music and he began to think of new ways to incorporate the bells with a more contemporary style.

Twenty-five years later a strange gentleman interrupted our spirit by wandering into the tower at Valley Forge, even though the door should have been locked. This gentleman had an interest in music and a hobby of collecting instruments. After a pleasant visit and an impromptu performance, the gentleman left saying, "People should see you do that."

Two weeks later the gentleman was presented with the opportunity to purchase a traveling carillon. This instrument was built in the mid 1970's, consisted of 35 bells and weighed 4 tons. It was the very same carillon that had inspired our spirit twenty-five years before! After confirming that the instrument was, indeed, desired, the carillon was purchased.

Now came the long process of creating the ensemble, writing the music, and bringing it to the masses. To this end, Frank felt that the music should "win the approval and capture the imagination of the listener." It should "be easily understood and felt. I didn't think too much about the compositions," he says. "I just wrote what I thought sounded good for this combination of instruments. Somehow I got lucky and people seemed to respond positively to what was being played."


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