Its official name is the University of the Philippines Memorial Campanille but to many others it is, simply, the Carillon.
Designed by National Artist Juan Nakpil, the Carillon towers 130 feet, which is used as a standard for all other structures around, meaning none are supposed to exceed its height.
An elevator shaft exists, but without an elevator, forcing people to walk, even jog, up the spiral staircase with more than a hundred steps taking you up five landings until you reach the playing cabin, where you find something resembling an organ, without a keyboard, a system of wooden pegs and pedals that are manipulated to pull on wires going up to the top floor.
I had never climbed all the way to that top floor and it took a bit of prodding from four members of UP Space, who were working on the Carillon, to make me climb up what I think of now as a ladder to the sky. I have a fear of heights but I thought the climb would be another opportunity to poke fun at the superstitions around hungry ghosts. It was, after all, the first day of the seventh lunar month.
Light and heavy, high and low
It was worth the climb. Besides providing a breathtaking panoramic view of UP Diliman, and parts of Quezon City, the peak of the tower had the bells of different sizes, with the wires looking like a harp.
The original Carillon had 46 bells of different sizes, cast by Van Bergen Bell, Chimes and Carillon Foundry in the Netherlands, under the supervision of Adrian Antonisse Jr., a Dutch carillonneur and director of the Veendammer Muziekschool. The larger the bell—and the biggest was about 5 tons—the lower the pitch.
No less than President Elpidio Quirino inaugurated the Carillon Tower on Aug. 1, 1952, and during the term of UP president Carlos Romulo, each day at UP Diliman began at 7:30 a.m. with someone playing the national anthem with another half an hour of music. The end of the day would be marked at 5:30 p.m. with a similar program.
With time, the original bells deteriorated and in 1988, the Carillon had to be closed down. Reflecting how the Carillon had become etched into public memories, people would claim they could hear the Carillon playing. In reality, the tower remained silent, or rather muted.
It was to take 20 more years before funds could be raised—in time for the university’s centennial—to bring in 36 new bells, still Dutch but from the Royal Bellfoundry Petit and Fritsen B. V. Holland. The new system could now be played through an electronic system and could be preset at certain hours.
The old bells are still to be found in a corner in the UP Theater. The new ones are programmed to chime on the hour with several songs played at 5 p.m. More than just keeping time, the entire tower, painted cream and maroon, has come to represent the ties of the alumni to the university.
The university alumni magazine is in fact called Carillon, and stopped publishing for several years, relaunched just this year, appropriately since the tower turned 65. The anniversary was not, however, celebrated and I hadn’t realized this was a landmark year until I did some research on the internet. There is an iskWiki article with comprehensive information, but also look up other entries on the carillon, which is actually a musical instrument in itself. I also realized all the carillon that are featured on the internet are either in Europe, North America or Australia and New Zealand.
Carillon of our times
The Carillon might well chronicle our times. Last year, when word spread that Marcos’ remains were transferred to the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the tower began to play “Bayan Ko” on the hour. (No, this was not imagined and neither did “Bayan Ko” get played without human intervention. Wink, wink.)
On Aug. 22, the Carillon was programmed to begin to play three songs—“Bayan Ko,” “Pilipinas Kong Mahal” and “UP Naming Mahal”—at 8 p.m. This was meant as a solidarity ringing with the Catholic churches in the archdiocese of Lingayen, where Archbishop Socrates Villegas requested a pealing of the bells every night, for 15 minutes, at 8 p.m. to protest extrajudicial killings.
I felt we could do no less with the Carillon, especially with the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos last week by policemen. The police have of course denied murder, saying they shot Kian in self-defense and pointing to a pistol in Kian’s hand as proof. The right-handed Kian did indeed have a pistol, on his left hand. There has also been incriminating CCTV footage showing Kian being dragged off by policemen.
I did want to say that more than this solidarity playing of the bells, the Carillon has spurred another equally important kind of activism, not of rallies and loud protests.
I mentioned four students from UP Space earlier, who made me climb up the tower to defy hungry ghosts. They were Coby Lim,
Hannah Arjonillo, Matt Arjonillo and Kyle Tan. In November last year, I received an email from Coby, who I can proudly say graduated from Xavier San Juan. Coby is an electrical engineering student, with an ear for music—he plays the guitar and violin—and he had heard the
Carillon many times but noticed something was wrong.
The “normal” sounds of a carillon do sound offkey at times because they’re based on a chromatic scale different from pianos and organs, but Coby could sense something else was wrong. I gave him the permission to investigate and he realized there were problems with the electronic circuit board and he has since mobilized UP Space to figure out a solution. They’re still working on it but in the meantime, are taking very good care of the whole system.
UP Space, whose members come from science and engineering, also manages a makerspace facility in another building—the National Center for Transportation Studies —providing 3D printers and other equipment for students who need design support.
I’ve challenged Coby and UP Space to look into other Carillon-related projects. A recording maybe, which will be very challenging because the bells sound best from a distance. Maybe a virtual reality video, 360 degrees around the campus, shot from the tower.
Finally, I asked if we might bring back a playlist for the day as in Romulo’s time, modified for our times. When I climbed up to the playing cabin, I found Hannah, a physics major and a pianist, about to produce a carillon version of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Why that song? Because it has an antiwar theme.
That first night of our solidarity bells playing, Coby thought out loud at one point about a possible carillon version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” composed by the Irish rock band U2. He softly sang out the song, and the excerpt below speaks for itself, for the Kians of our times:
And the battle’s just begun/There’s many lost, but tell me who has won/The trench is dug within our hearts/And mothers, children, brothers, sisters/Torn apart.
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