OTTAWA — Finding a spot on the sweeping lawn in front of Canada’s ornately Gothic Parliament buildings to hear a concert this month was not a problem in the middle of a pandemic.

As the 53-bell carillon of the Peace Tower rang out songs marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland by Canadian troops, an audience of just two listened, with people in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, heeding calls to avoid crowds during the coronavirus crisis.

But the symbolic import of these bells to Ottawa, and Canada, shouldn’t be judged by the sparse turnout.

Anthony Rota, the speaker of the House of Commons, is among the lawmakers who believe it is important that the bells continue to chime during the national health emergency.

“When you’re walking around and you see the Peace Tower and then you hear it, you get a certain feeling of pride of being Canadian,” Mr. Rota said. “It really gives you that feeling of, yeah, this is Canada. It’s just got that sound.”

To encourage social distancing, officials have been urging the Canadian public to listen to the chiming online.

For the bells to keep pealing, however, someone needs to play them, and that someone is Dr. Andrea McCrady, who bears an official title: the Dominion Carillonneur of Canada.

Credit…Dave Chan for The New York Times

With Canada’s Parliament eager for the bells to sound during the outbreak — for reasons of morale and to provide a touch of normalcy — Dr. McCrady’s performances have become the only sanctioned musical events for a live audience in Canada’s capital during the shutdown.

Keeping the bells ringing is no easy feat. The Peace Tower, at 322-feet tall, defines Ottawa’s skyline. The tower’s elevator has an operator but not enough room for passengers to remain two meters apart, Canada’s distancing minimum, so Dr. McCrady must climb 188 steps to the snug room inside that contains the keyboard she uses to control the bells.

As many musicians turn to performing online during the pandemic, they are navigating for the first time how to connect with an audience watching over a screen instead of in-person.

For Dr. McCrady, a physical disconnection from her audience has long been part of the job.

“In the carillon world, you never know who’s on the ground,” she said. “And most people have no clue that it’s a live person up there.”

Credit…via the House of Commons 

The Peace Tower, built to commemorate the Canadian troops killed and maimed during World War I, was completed in 1927. During the opening ceremony, the first event to be broadcast live throughout Canada by radio, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King declared the carillon to be the “voice of the nation.”

While the bells, the largest of which weighs more than 22,000 pounds, have occasionally been refurbished, “the mechanism, and everything else that’s up there now, is pretty much what was there in 1927,” said Johanna K. Mizgala, the curator of the House of Commons and Dr. McCrady’s supervisor.

In the tower, Dr. McCrady performs with a keyboard made up of a vertical panel of levers known as manuals and a pedal board connected by cables to the clappers that strike the bells.

When the National Film Board of Canada climbed up the tower for a 1951 documentary, Robert Donnell, the carillonneur at the time, prepared for a performance as if he was getting ready to brawl. He removed his jacket and tie, unbuttoned his shirt and slipped two thick leather protective rings around his pinkie fingers to protect them before striking the levers.

But Dr. McCrady said that adjustments to the mechanism during the 1980s made the carillon as subtle and sensitive an instrument as a piano. Not only does she not use leather rings, she wears dancing shoes to get a better feel of the pedals.

“If I pound the bells, it’s a very ugly sound,” she said. “It does not take physical endurance whatsoever. It’s much more mentally taxing than physically.”

Credit…via the House of Commons 

The appointment of Dr. McCrady as the fifth Dominion Carillonneur in 2008, after a worldwide search, prompted some mild controversy. She is a native of Pittsburgh, and the decision meant that Canada’s national voice would be controlled by an American.

She did, however, have ties to Canada, having studied medicine at McGill University in Montreal and having done her residency in Toronto. During her time in Canada, she regularly performed on carillons in both cities.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 26, 2020

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.

There was, however, no questioning her carillon credentials. Before starting her medical studies, Dr. McCrady, a former pianist who found that her hands were too small to play that instrument at the highest levels, studied the carillon in Belgium, Holland and France.

Outside and on the grounds around Parliament, the carillon’s music floats ethereally through the air, the opposite of a pipe organ dominating a cathedral or a hockey arena.

Paul de Broeck was one of the two listeners at the recent 45-minute concert, which concluded with “Het Wilhelmus,” Holland’s national anthem. Mr. de Broeck, who cycles over from neighboring Gatineau, Quebec, for nearly all of Dr. McCrady’s shows, said he was disappointed that the best area for listening, out of the wind on the east side of the center block, is now fenced off for construction.

Credit…Dave Chan for The New York Times

The center block of Parliament, the building connected to the Peace Tower, closed last year for a complex restoration project that will last about a decade. The House of Commons and Senate now meet in temporary chambers, and Dr. McCready has become Parliament’s lone employee not involved in the renovations still working inside of Canada’s seat of government.

The drop in traffic on the busy road in front of Parliament has reduced one source of noise competing with the carillon but the construction has added another. During Dr. McCrady’s two most recent concerts, some large excavators suspended their digging. But other workers continued sawing and nailing, and driving lifts that loudly beeped as they were moved.

Inside Dr. McCrady’s office, a musical library holds nearly a century’s worth of music adapted for the carillon. Not everything will work, Dr. McCrady said. Rock songs that rely on percussion don’t translate well, and she always turns down frequent requests for tunes with any political overtones.

But she is not beyond having some carillon fun: “Puff the Magic Dragon” accompanies the annual marijuana smoke-in each April 20.

Between the pandemic and the construction, Dr. McCrady will not be giving her usual 200 or so performances this year. And like Parliament itself, her schedule remains in flux. As a doctor, she has registered to help out with the medical system.

At another May concert, this one marking the 75th anniversary of Germany’s surrender in World War II, the turnout was somewhat better, reaching a peak of 15 extremely physically distanced listeners.

Dr. McCrady’s program for them, and the unknown number of online listeners, included two songs that worked just as well for Canada’s current state as they did for remembrances of 1945: “We’ll Meet Again” and “As Time Goes By.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)