Rockefeller bells sent to Europe for restoration

By Jill DiNucci

As part of the University’s renovation of Rockefeller Chapel, the chapel’s carillon—the second largest in the world—is being dismantled and shipped to Holland where it will undergo a complete restoration.

The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon, donated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1932 in memory of his mother, is a musical instrument that comprises an 18.5-ton bass bell and a set of 72 chromatically tuned bells. Altogether, the carillon is made up of over 100 tons of copper and tin.

Arranged as a console in Rockefeller Chapel’s tower, the harmonious bells can only be played from a particular keyboard designed specifically for carillons. Instead of finger keys, the keyboard has baton-shaped handles and pedals that are manually struck by the hands and feet of the performer, enabling the carillon to carry six different octaves.

Restoration of the chapel began on October 3. Although some of the carillon’s larger bells will stay in Chicago, many of the smaller ones will be sent to the Netherlands’ Royal Eijsbouts, one of few companies known for its service of carillons.

The company will also help with the restoration being done in Chicago.

“Rockefeller Chapel’s restoration is decades overdue,” said Assistant Carillonneur Jim Fackenthal.

The restoration of the carillon, along with various other improvements to the chapel, was made possible through donations during former president Don Randel’s tenure.

“We were very fortunate to have a convergence of events,” said Fackenthal. “We had scaffolding on the tower for other reasons, so there was a great savings to be realized by not having to raise the scaffolding twice.”

The renovation entails several significant modifications.

“By restoring the carillon, people will be able to actually hear the bells, instead of having to imagine what they once sounded like,” said Fackenthal.

The bell frames and the playing cabin––the suspended room that houses the instrumentalist––are being completely rebuilt. Almost all of the clappers that strike the interiors of the bells to produce sound are also being replaced or rearranged, as are the transmission system and the keyboard.

Prior to the renovations, the chapel used a small European instrument as a keyboard, making it difficult to operate. The new keyboard will have a different arrangement of keys.

“People will now be able to play the instruments instead of fighting them,” said Fackenthal. “These restorations are going to make a huge difference.”

The renovations are expected to be finished by the first weekend of June 2008. Although the sound of the carillon will not be heard during the months of its restoration, Fackenthal and the rest of the members involved in the chapel’s restorations are excited about the project.

“The carillon is a priceless cultural treasure for the campus and we are delighted it is finally receiving the stewardship that it deserves,” said Fackenthal. “We look forward to reintroducing the carillon to the University next year.”