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The appealing music of Cape Town will ring your bell; Of all the attractions offered by South Africa's top city, one of the best is one of the oldest, says Jeremy Lovell, and it's free.

South Africa's premier tourist attraction with its extensive surfing beaches, wine and whale routes, Cape Town is thinking of turning to the medieval art of campanology (bell ringing) to add to its charms.

The secret lies in the largely ignored carillon of 37 bells hanging in the tower of city hall which are played by Cape Town's lone carilloneur Donovan Bagley, perched in his eyrie above Grand Parade.

"This carillon is unique in Africa and one of only eight in the entire Southern Hemisphere," Bagley said from his bell tower.

"Unlike most attractions in the city which cost money, this music is absolutely free," he added, the bells pealing overhead.

Cape Town tourism chief Sheryl Ozinsky agreed vigorously.

"It is the most amazing tourist attraction," she says. "I really want to use this to promote Cape Town. It is absolutely wonderful."

The carillon, weighing in at 23 tonnes and built to commemorate the dead of the First World War, was inaugurated by the Prince of Wales in 1924. Each bell is inscribed with a message.

The Cape Town bells are played by a lone carilloneur seated in front of a "keyboard" consisting of levers and foot pedals.

Each one is connected to a bell which is rung as the player strikes each lever with a gloved fist or his foot.

The resulting sound, which can range from ancient hymns to modern pop music, is unique and unmistakable in its resonance.

Although the Cape Town bells are relatively modern, carillons themselves originated in the Middle Ages.

The ancient Belgian town of Mechelen was originally the only carillon school in the world, though there are now several others dotted around the globe. However, it is not a particularly popular or widespread art form.

"There are only 400 carillons in the world and less than 1,000 carilloneurs," Adrian Gebruers, president of the World Carillon Federation, said on a visit to Cape Town.

"This carillon is heaven on earth. It is a major attraction of the city. It is absolutely brilliant," he said after a public recital that ended with a rendition of the popular Londonderry Air.

Gebruers, who teaches the carillon at University College, Cork, in southern Ireland, travels the world teaching and demonstrating.

"This is a quite unique instrument. It is quite beautiful. The bells are in fine condition although could perhaps do with a more modern mechanism," he said demonstrating the strength needed to depress the levers operating the bass bells.

While the schools at Mechelen, Cork and elsewhere train their scholars academically, in many cases the skills are passed on from player to pupil sitting together for hours at a time in their bell towers, in effect practising in public.

"At the university we now have a keyboard connected to a computer so my students can practice in private," Gebruers said. "Before we got that they had to use the carillon itself, and obviously it meant everyone could hear the mistakes.

"The sound of a carillon is unmistakable. You hear them all over Belgium and the Netherlands as well as in France, Ireland, Australia and the United States. The biggest in the world is, obviously, in New York. It has 70 bells," Gebruers said.

"My father played Laurel and Hardy their theme tune on the carillon when they arrived by ship in Cork on their way to Britain. They were so moved they mentioned it in their biography," he added.

Bagley, contracted by Cape Town city council to play every month, has no apprentice but is keen to promote the bells.

"It would be wonderful to get the carillon on the itinerary of tour operators," he enthused. "You can imagine bus loads of tourists pulling up in Grand Parade to listen to a recital."

"Table mountain makes a perfect back drop," Gebruers agreed. "Not only is it a beautiful view but it also acts as a natural sounding board reflecting the music on to the parade."

However, there is one major hitch. Tour operators want brochures with which to promote the city's many and varied attractions.

But glossy brochures are expensive and Bagley can't afford them. Cape Town, along with the rest of South Africa, has other priorities, as the country struggles to bury the last vestiges of apartheid less than six years after its first democratic elections.
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Title Annotation:Travel
Author:Lovell, Jeremy
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 12, 2000
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