For the first time this academic year, the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel bells will once again sound throughout the University campus.
After undergoing a repair process lasting nearly a year, the carillon—a musical instrument consisting of a cluster of cast iron bells, each weighing several tons—will play for the Hyde Park community this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the Chapel’s performance of A Musical Renaissance: Gala for Organ and Carillon. The concert will celebrate the restoration of the 75-year-old Laura Spelman Rockefeller Carillon and the E. M. Skinner Opus 634 organ, showcasing the new range and capabilities of the restored instruments.
Saturday’s concert will highlight the powerful sounds of Chicago’s largest organ with newly commissioned pieces by William Bolcom and Marta Ptaszynska, a professor in music at the College. The Rockefeller Chapel Choir, Motet Choir, University Chorus, and University of Chicago Singers will accompany the commissioned works.
The Gala culminates a mission that began in 2005 when
President Emeritus and ethnomusicologist Don Randel announced he would not leave the University until funds to repair the carillon and organ were raised. His sermon precipitated a gift of $1.6 million from trustees and friends of the University, marking the start of the $3 million project.
Weighing in at over 100 tons, the Chapel’s carillon is the second largest carillon in the world, second in weight only to the Riverside Church’s carillon in New York City. When it was installed in the Rockefeller Chapel tower in 1932 for $230,000, it was the largest carillon in the world. The carillon is comprised of 72 bells, the largest of which weighs 18.5 tons and is 10 feet in diameter. The second largest bell is the same size as Big Ben.
The Netherlander company Royal Eijsbouts, one of very few companies that repairs carillons, came to Rockefeller Chapel in September to uninstall and send 46 bells to the Netherlands for repairs. After repairing the bells, Royal Eijsbouts shipped them back to Chicago and reinstalled them in a new, more acoustic arrangement.
Previously, the smaller bells were located above the keyboard and underneath the larger bells, allowing the carillonneur to hear them but making it difficult for the notes to escape the tower and reach the audience. The smaller bells have been relocated above the larger bells to allow their sound to travel.
“You can get much more musical nuance out of the instrument now,” said Wylie Crawford, the University carillonneur.
The cabin for the carillonneur has also been completely restored and expanded to accommodate tour groups. The old keyboard, which was made before carillon keyboards were standardized, has been replaced.
In addition to playing the carillon every Sunday and at special events, Crawford teaches the instrument to members of the student organization The Rockebellers. He will be performing on Saturday with assistant University carillonneur James Fackenthal and guest carillonneur Milford Myhre. A live video feed will allow concertgoers to watch the dancelike movements of the carillonneurs as they play the seven-foot keyboard in the Chapel’s tower.
Thomas Wiesflog, the University organist, will be playing the newly restored organ, a $2.1 million endeavor that included a new tonal arch and restoration of the 8,565 pipes that make up the organ.
“For a pipe organ, the building is the sound board,” Wiesflog said, adding that the layout of the components has been re-engineered to better suit Rockefeller Chapel.
Along with other repairs underway at Rockefeller, a restored roof and window will prevent water damage that has caused significant harm to the organ in the past. Electrical wiring from its original installation has been replaced, and an up-to-date computer system has been added.
Schantz Organ Company, known for its work on Skinner organs, disassembled the organ and shipped it to their factory in Ohio for the restoration process, then reassembled the organ in Chicago.
Baroque pipes that had been added since the organ was built were removed to maintain its Renaissance character, and the Randel State Trumpet has been added in honor of the former president.
“[The organ] has been restored to be a truly grand Romantic instrument,” Wiesflog said.