Past Carillonneurs of Bournville:
Bournville has been fortunate to have been served by committed and talented carillonneurs since it was built in 1906.
Harry Withers and his dulcimer.
Harry Withers (1906-1924)
Harry Withers was born in the Ladywood district of Birmingham on 14 August 1875, at that time a very rough area and one where weaklings were unlikely to survive. Although not tall, Harry Withers was strong looking and never wore an overcoat, summer or winter. For the early part of his working life he was a member of the staff of the King’s Norton and Northfield Urban District Council, where he was employed as a dustman, but because of his abilities subsequently had a change of employer.
Harry was an accomplished peal bell ringer. He learned to ring in 1896 and rang his first peal on 13 December 1897. Although he rang peals in the standard methods of the day, up to London Surprise Major and Stedman Cinques, he was better known for his activities outside the belfry than in it. He had a remarkable facility for tapping changes, either on a piano or on his dulcimer,
His musical gifts caused a change in career. George Cadbury of Bournville heard the carillon at Bruges while on a visit to Belgium and was so impressed that he ordered 22 bells from John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough, and these were installed in 1906. Harry Withers, despite any lack of musical training, was appointed carillonneur, his performances being given entirely from ear. He was actually employed as a striker in the blacksmith’s department, but when any distinguished visitors came to the works he was summoned to entertain them with a recital. His playing was of a high standard and was commented on favourably by Jef Denyn, the world-famous carillonneur, who was exiled to England from his native Belgium during the first world war. In 1915 three 78 r.p.m. records were made of Harry Withers playing the Bournville carillon, and these were mainly of traditional airs, although on one side of one of these records there was a course of Grandsire Caters.
Harry Withers’ fame was such that in 1922 he gave the first recital on a new carillon at Stavanger, Norway, and in the same year inaugurated the new carillon at the Metropolitan Church in Toronto, Canada. However, in October 1924, a year after an augmentation of the carillon at Bournville, a new carillonneur was appointed. This was Clifford Ball, a professional musician, and he held the post until 1965.
The emphasis has been on Harry Withers’ extraordinary talents outside the tower. However, for many years he was ringing master at Edgbaston Parish Church. He stressed the importance of Sunday Service ringing and insisted on the highest possible standard of striking.
The dulcimer was an awkward thing to carry about, and towards the end of his life he got tired of responding to invitations to take it to various places. One night he cut out most of the wires so that he couldn’t take it out again. He died on Christmas Day 1949 and was buried in Lodge Hill Cemetery, a course of Grandsire Triples being rung on handbells over the open grave.
(Taken from 'GIANTS OF THE EXERCISE II More Notable Ringers of the Past' by DR. JOHN C. EISEL)
Clifford Ball at the original clavier, which is now connected to tone bars and tubular resonators so as to function as a practice instrument.
The original clavier was (and still is) positioned down below in the main school building.
Clifford Ball (1924-1965)
Clifford Evans Ball was born on 27 June 1899 and was educated at King Edward's School at Camp Hill Birmingham. He served in the Navy during the first world war but on his release from military service in 1919 he went to study at the Birmingham School of Music under Sir Granville Bantock. Having graduated as a Bachelor of Music with honours in July 1922, George Cadbury, one of the founding brothers of Cadbury Brothers Ltd, appointed him in 1924, as organist and second Carillonneur of Bournville. George Cadbury sent him to the National School of Carillon Art in Malines, Belgium where he studied for three months under the master Carillonneur, Jef Denyn. Clifford Ball became the first Englishman to be awarded the Diploma of the School with honours and in 1926 he returned to Malines to enter the world contest for carillon playing and won first prize.
When he retired as Carillonneur in 1965 Clifford Ball had established a world wide reputation as an outstanding musician and expert in the Carillon art. He had played the Carillon on numerous auspicious occasions including many performances in the presence of Royalty. Clifford Ball was often officially consulted whenever Carillons at home and abroad were being designed, renovated or extended, and a memorable occasion was when he was invited in 1932 by the New Zealand Government to give an inaugural recital on the Wellington Carillon on 25th April - Anzac Day.
The present Carillonneur of Bournville, Trevor Workman, received tuition from Clifford Ball for approximately 12 months. Trevor held Clifford in very high regard and over many years a firm friendship developed between the two Carillonneurs and their wives. The two players enjoyed making music together and a partnership developed in playing duets for two pianos. Clifford Ball died on 22nd April 1986 leaving a sizeable legacy of manuscript music of Carillon compositions and other skilful arrangements which are regularly played in Bournville and increasingly all over the world as Trevor follows in his footsteps. The ultimate privilege for Trevor was to be able to play the organ for his mentor's funeral service.
To mark the centenary of Clifford Ball's birth in 1899, a short biography has been written by his son, Iain. This fascinating publication has been made all the more interesting and valuable in being accompanied by manuscripts of Clifford Ball's original Carillon compositions and other arrangements of familiar music for the Carillon. Published under the auspices of the British Carillon Society, with a major contribution by John Knox, the document entitled "Clifford Ball Centenary - Life and Music" is available, to peruse and for sale, from the Carillon Visitor Centre.
Ray Aldington (Assistant Carillonneur 1969-2012)
Ray received tuition from Trevor Workman and became his assistant in 1969. He was a founder member and past President of the British Carillon Society and has played all of the 14 Carillons of the British Isles. He has given recitals abroad in Belgium, Holland, Denmark, the USA and Canada. Ray was also a prominent figure in the world of change ringing and hand bell ringing, and was tower captain at Kings Norton Church.
Until his retirement Ray was a teacher in Bournville Junior School and had his classroom on the top floor immediately beneath the bells. This proved to be very convenient in being able to show the carillon routinely, as a special ‘treat’, to final year pupils of the school, and enabled Ray to give his weekly recital each Friday afternoon commencing at 5 o’clock.
Sadly after his retirement Ray faced a long battle with illness, and he died on the 25th September 2012.