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Wesminster Quarters

The clock tower bell song that peals from the belfry 12 times a day is called “Westminster Quarters” and was composed by William Crotch in 1793. It was first heard on Big Ben—the great bell in London—but now every clock tower wants to be like Big Ben, because he the Best Ben.

In the old days, the townsfolk struck real bells fashioned from real bell metal to chime the quarters of the hour, but nowadays all the bells in the clock towers have been replaced by digital clariion delivery systems. The Chimes that sound at the center of town, from the schools and churches, are nothing more than an extremely loud ringtone.

“Wesminster Quarters” is one of the most influential pieces of music in the modern soundscape and responsible for the ‘Majorification of America’. The first 2 notes of the 3rd measure produces a Major Third and inspired the door bell, the telephone dial tone, the convenience store ding, the car horn, and much more. This Majorification appears to be a natural phenomenon—after all, human babies prefer perfect intervals and consonant harmonies, but perhaps the ubiquity of the Major Third interval was intentional by the powers that be, as a way of placating the masses like babies with a cozy musical environment that closely approximates the lullaby of the womb with its 120bpm pop beats and harmonious mommyesque melodies—a kind of sonic fluoridation if you will, but you won’t have to.

Like an atom can be anything or a fresh spirit can choose whatever incarnation, “Westminster Quarters” is made up of 4 notes (C, D, E, G) permutated into 4 different phrases. On the top of the hour, the entire sequence plays. Drag over the black stemmed noteheads to listen. One can see the fearful symmetry in the 4 bars of the Chimes ending in the final strike to denote the hour.

On the new Los Doggies album, there is an Indie Rock cover of the bellsong “Westminster Quarters”. The original lyrics are sung intact, as well as some new verses depicting the Majorification of America. As in the original “Quarters”, the 4 notes of the chimes are milked for all they’re worth—playing them, singing them, reappropriating them into several different tonalities, proving that you don’t even need Three Chords to write a song anymore. Chords? Where we’re going, we don’t need chords.

Actually, we will need a lot of chords, and all the notes.

Stop Majorifying my city, Obama!