The day the music died

The carillonneurs will continue to play, though not in Harkness Tower.
The carillonneurs will continue to play, though not in Harkness Tower. Photo by Vivian Yee.

At the annual extracurricular activities bazaar Sunday, Guild of Carillonneurs co-chair Andrew Lai ’10 paced in front of the group’s table as another Guild member stood balancing a paper model of Harkness Tower on her head.

As curious freshmen approached the table, Lai eagerly talked up the 61-year-old organization, whose members usually ring Harkness’s bells twice a day during the academic year. But when the subject of the tower’s ongoing renovations came up, his face fell.

Carillonneurs stand in front of Harkness. The construction restricts their ability to play the bells.
Carillonneurs stand in front of Harkness. The construction restricts their ability to play the bells.

Not only will the tower be shrouded in blue tarp and scaffolding this year as its exterior is restored, but its 54-bell carillon will lay silent until May or June, when the construction is slated to end. Since August, the instrument was wrapped up to allow construction to continue around it — forcing Guild players to strike their bells elsewhere.

SILENT BELLS

Elis accustomed to listening to the Guild’s renditions of movie theme music, pop songs and classical music will not hear the Harkness bells until the end of this academic year. Deputy Secretary of the University Martha Highsmith DIV ’95 said student Guild members cannot access the Harkness carillon this year because the tower is not safe to ascend during construction.

“It’s kind of a bummer, because it’s my senior year, so it would have been nice to play the bells,” Lai said. (Lai is a former copy editor for the News.)

Other students agreed. “My idea of Branford is tied up with the bells,” said Rachel Ruskin ’12, a Branford College student who is living in the college for the first time this year. “They remind you that you’re at Yale.”

Though they now have plans to bring in a temporary, travelling carillon on wheels, Guild members said they experienced a rough transition out of Harkness Tower.

While the Office of the Secretary e-mailed Guild bell consultant Ellen Dickinson ’97 MUS ’99 about the renovations before construction began, the Guild was unable to hold its annual summer concert series for a week in June, summer carillonneur Katherine Zhou ’12 said.

“The construction company didn’t realize that we were supposed to have access to the tower,” Zhou said. Highsmith said there may have been a delay in giving the students access to the tower after construction began, but said the renovations had been planned around the bells from the start.

BELLS ON WHEELS

Luckily for the Guild, the bells at the top of Harkness Tower are not the only carillons around New Haven.

The tower’s lower levels contain two inaudible practice carillons that will not be affected by the renovations. The Guild will also turn to nearby carillons in Simsbury and on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford, potentially making multiple trips a week to the off-campus instruments. These measures will allow group members to keep learning new music and training new players as they wait for renovations to end ­­­— and they may also afford unexpected benefits.

“It’s really rewarding and also educational to play other carillons, because no two carillons are identical,” Dickinson said, explaining that the setting, size and weight of each instrument can affect the acoustics.

The Guild has also signed a contract to bring one of only two traveling carillons in the country to campus for about four months this year. Called the Mobile Millennium, the instrument contains a set of 48 cast bronze bells set on wheels and pulled by a tractor. Highsmith said the traveling carillon, which stretches over 46 feet, including the tractor, will be parked in a lot on Science Hill from Thanksgiving through the end of January and for two months in the spring — bringing carillon music to an area of campus where the sound of the Harkness carillon is faint at best.

“We really did not want to go for an entire year without that opportunity,” Highsmith said. “It’s so much a part of the Yale experience.”

THE GUILD LIVES ON

Despite the University’s involvement in bringing the traveling carillon to campus, funds for the instrument will come from a Guild endowment known as the Crofut Memorial Carillon Fund, intended to support the upkeep and maintenance of the Harkness carillon, Lai said. (Lai said he did not yet know how much the bells would cost). In addition to funds drawn from the organization’s other endowment, the Anna M. Harkness Fund, the group’s annual income usually tops $40,000.

Student carillonneurs expressed cautious optimism about the traveling carillon, but other students’ reactions were more muted.

“You can’t really replace Harkness Tower,” Guillermo Peralta ’12 said. “I feel like the traveling bells would be just a source of humor.”

Even with the upheaval surrounding the Guild this year, Guild recruitment director Vera Wuensche ’12 said she has seen about the same level of interest in the organization as last year, with 77 students signing up for e-mails so far. But with access to practice instruments half what it was in years past, the Guild — which accepts new members only after an intensive period of training and auditioning — will have to winnow down their list of “heelers,” or potential members, more quickly, Lai said.

As for this year’s Guild seniors, Lai hopes the Harkness renovations will end in time for the group’s traditional senior concert during Commencement weekend (Highsmith explained that the opening of the carillon is contingent on whether students can safely climb the tower in May).

“Harkness is very special,” Lai said. “It would mean a lot to me to be able to play the carillon at Commencement.”

Comments

  • haha

    can i just say: brilliant title for this article. brilliant picture. now i definitely want to read it in full (and will do so later when i get a moment).

  • Y09

    What a bummer!