“YO, heave ho! Yo, heave ho!” the 55 bronze bells of the National Carillon are chiming out as senior carillonist Thomas Laue and singer Tobias Cole check out likely songs from around the world for their Mother Language Day recital on February 24.
The National Capital Authority, which manages the Carillon, already slots in concerts for Christmas Eve, Anzac Day, International Women’s Day and even “Star Wars” Day, but this is a new, untried venture marking the UNESCO-designated day that, since 2000, has marked the right of people all around the world to speak their own mother tongues.
The day’s origins are in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, where a group of students were gunned down by police in February, 1952, for using their native Bangla (Bengali) language and, with this in mind, Laue and Cole have been preparing a carillon and voice version of the famous “February Song” which Bangladeshis sing in memory of their language martyrs.
That, alongside favourite folk songs from around the world, will be performed on the carillon, accompanied by Cole’s vocal group, the Lyneham High Singers, as hundreds of colourfully-clad Canberrans walk across Kings Avenue Bridge to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity.
What is more, the UN General Assembly has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages so Laue and Cole have come up with two lively songs by Chris Sainsbury and Brenda Gifford, indigenous Australian composers based at the ANU. Sainsbury’s song in the Dharug (Eora) language of the Sydney region is “Juljul” (jumping ant) while Gifford’s “Galaa”, meaning “summer”, is in the Dhurga language of the NSW south coast.
But voice and carillon together?
Cole wants to know how that works. Easy, says Laue, as he shows off the state-of-the-art, $75,000 amplifying equipment that gets around elements of time-lapse and other problems. He believes this technology hasn’t been used as much as it should be and welcomes the chance to test out its capacity to balance with the human voice.
He is excited to show off the bells, cast in England by John Taylor & Co, of Loughborough, especially the largest one, weighing six tonnes. The smallest one, he says, weighs just seven kilograms.
Back at the carillon’s “keyboard”, an elaborate series of levers that operate the bells mechanically, the two musicians leaf through music sheets for songs from many countries – Ireland, Norway, Denmark, China, Russia, India, Catalan Spain, the US and Japan among them – in search of a selection for between six to 12 voices.
I’m sure it will be fine – “we’ve had a brass band in here, you know,” Laue says reassuringly.
Mother Language Day recital, National Carillon, Aspen Island, Lake Burley Griffin, 11am-noon, Sunday February 24; regular recitals on Wednesdays and Sundays from 12.30 to 1.20pm.
Helen Musa is a member of the International Mother Language Movement committee.