If you haven’t been on the Römerberg on a Wednesday at lunchtime to hear the Glockenspiel or Carillon, you have missed something special. The Alte Nikolai is the only church in Frankfurt with a Carillon of bells and they have a fantastic, professional carillonist to play them – Yuko Tajima
A few years ago, a new carillonist move to Frankfurt from the Netherlands, David Van Amstel. He plays on the 1st and 3rd Tues. each month from 17:00-18:00
What an amazing skill to possess. The Alte Nikolai carillon has 47 bells, and as you can see in the video, it is played by hitting the wooden handles with your fists or with foot pedals. Though the Netherlands has 180 of these carillons, Germany only has 41, and Frankfurt only 1, so we are lucky that it is right here in the middle of the city, where all can hear it, and to also have a talented carillonist like Frau Tajima.
Growing up in Japan, studying the piano and organ, Yuko had always loved the sound of these bells. She eventually went to Amsterdam and began studying the carillon. After going back and forth between Japan and the Netherlands for 7 years to study, she spent the last 6 months with a Dutch family and finished getting her Carillon diploma. Once she moved to Frankfurt, she found out that the Alte Nikolai had a carillon and approached the pastor, Dr. Jeffery Myers, asking if she could volunteer to play. With a resounding Yes! from him, she prepared for her first session in Frankfurt with a varied selection of music. Her first date to play? Sept. 12, 2001. She quickly changed her selections and played songs that would reflect the grief over the loss of lives in America.
On June 12th, 2009, Yuko played a lovely selection of songs in honor of Anne Frank’s 80th birthday in conjunction with 2 special tours offered by Frankfurt on Foot. Anne had written in her diary how reassured she felt, listening to the carillon of the West Church that could be seen out of her window in the “annex”. Yuko had picked out songs that she thought Anne might have listened to while she was growing up, both here in Frankfurt and in Amsterdam. You can imagine what a special treat that was, to be up on the gallery of the Alte Nikolai, looking down on the crowds on the Römerberg, and being able to listen to these wonderful old songs.
If you would like to hear these lovely bells played with real passion and skill, then make sure you are downtown at the Römer on most Wednesdays of the year shortly after 12:00. For 40 minutes, Yuko plays for our enjoyment. I was so astonished one time to hear the bells ringing “Love Me Tender” by Elvis. For a special event several years ago, she even played the Rolling Stones. I never imagined that these bells could be so versatile. Yuko’s playing can be heard on several holidays of the year, like Christmas or Easter, or for special events. The bells also play 2 songs automatically every day at 09:05, 12:05, & 17:05 and are part of the 4 times a year, Pealing of the Bells.