A ringing endorsement for the music of the carillon
To this day, Gordon Slater vividly remembers the man whistling while he swept.
Slater, the former dominion carillonneur of Canada, walked by a maintenance employee shortly after one of his daily performances atop the Peace Tower in Ottawa. The sweeper was, perhaps unbeknownst to him, whistling one of the tunes Slater had just played.
“I actually reached this man and touched him without him even knowing,” he said. “To this day, I cherish that contact with a member of the audience.”
Slater shared several memorable moments from his 31-year run in the prestigious position with the Rotary Club of Stratford Thursday afternoon.
Two years into Slater’s role, former prime minister John Diefenbaker died. During the state funeral, Slater’s assistant – and future wife – Elsa was on the ground giving cues through a two-way radio.
“The synchronization of the carillon music with the terrestrial activities was flawless,” he said to the Rotarians at the Kiwanis Community Centre. “It was later declared the tower had eyes.”
After Pierre Trudeau died in 2000, Slater was instructed to toll the largest of the 53 bells 80 times in tribute to each year of the former prime minister’s life.
Slater also recorded the first longplaying record of the tower’s carillon, called Bells & Brass as it featured the Canadian Brass. But his portion had to be taped at 4 a.m. to avoid the sound of city traffic.
The 66-year-old Toronto native is one of four carillonneurs in the city this week playing a mobile version of the instrument as part of Stratford Summer Music’s lineup. He was first drawn to it as his father played at the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto. That’s where he was inspired by its ability to play music for hundreds of people without a loudspeaker.
“Fabulous,” he said of his first time playing at age seven. “The bells can be played loudly or softly, because the keyboard allows that just as a piano’s keyboard allows that.”
But the authority to control the instrument’s voice comes with responsibility.
“The dominion carillonneur of Canada is responsible for ensuring that the sound of the Peace Tower Carillon always reflects the dignity of Parliament and the aspirations of Canadians,” he said.
It was installed for Canada’s diamond jubilee in 1927, the country’s third at the time. The most recent version was installed at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in 1974.
“We proud Canucks can now count 11 carillons from sea to sea to sea,” he said.
This Saturday is going to be a busy one in Harrington. The Oxford County village is celebrating its Harrington 150 Heritage Festival with a number of familyfriendly events throughout the afternoon and early evening. The Harrington and Area Community Association will be hosting tours of the village’s historic grist mill, as well as offering demonstrations of spinning, blacksmithing, quilting and antique farm equipment. The Saturday festival will also feature an exhibit of indigenous artifacts, Highland dancing, square dancing, buskers, horse-drawn carriage rides and self0guided walking cemetery tours. The historical association has also posted dozens of sings that highlight spots of historical interest, including the wishing well that grew out of a local oil-well scam. As part of the Saturday festivities, the local branch of the Oxford County library and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority are challenging visitors to a family scavenger hunt. To mark the sesquicentennial and the village’s own storied history, there is also a speaker series at the local Presbyterian church, an old barn and the former schoolhouse, with each venue offering a different topic of interest. For visiting foodies, Knox Presbyterian Church us hosting a lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. that boasts 10-cent ice cream cones while the Tavistock Assistance Program is holding an all-day barbecue. Saturday’s fun culminates with the Harrington 150 concert, featuring the renowned Stratford-based folk trio Trent Severn. For tickets, go to www. eztix.com/trentsevern or phone 519-475-4834. Concert tickets are $25 for adults or $15 for youth aged 18 or under. Children aged 10 or under are free if accompanied by an adult. Held in the stunning natural setting of the Harrington Conservation Area, the concert’s “doors” open at 6:15 p.m. while performances are slated to start at 7 p.m.
Former dominion carillonneur of Canada Gordon Slater speaks to the Rotary Club of Stratford on Thursday, Slater is one of four carillonneurs performing in the city this week as part of Stratford Summer Music.