Hearkening to Harkness

The Guild of Carilloneurs will hold a concert today from its mobile carillon, which sits in a parking lot on Whitney Avenue.
The Guild of Carilloneurs will hold a concert today from its mobile carillon, which sits in a parking lot on Whitney Avenue. Photo by Jordi Gassó.

Far from Harkness Tower, the bells are tolling in a parking lot on Science Hill.

Today the Guild of Carillonneurs will hold their first concert since August, when the guild’s traditional abode, Harkness Tower and its 54-bell carillon, were enveloped by blue tarp and scaffolding for exterior restorations. The concert will take place at 5 p.m. in a parking lot on Whitney Avenue, near the Peabody Museum. The title of the concert, “Bells in a Box,” is derived from the Mobile Millennium Carillon they will be playing, which contains 48 cast bronze bells set within a box on a trailer — literally, bells in a box.

A member of the Guild of Carilloneurs sits at the pedal board inside the mobile carillon. The mobile carillon is slightly different from the carillon in Harkness, which fits the concave American standard.
A member of the Guild of Carilloneurs sits at the pedal board inside the mobile carillon. The mobile carillon is slightly different from the carillon in Harkness, which fits the concave American standard.

While the Harkness carillon was still available, the Guild held several concerts throughout the year, but the restoration of the tower has left the Guild without its “second home,” recruitment director Vera Wuensche ’12 said. Wuensche said the concert will be an opportunity to remind students that the Guild is still an active organization.

“This is our ‘we are back’ concert,” she said.

The rental of the 46-foot-long portable instrument was funded by a Guild endowment called the Crofut Memorial Carillon Fund, intended to support the upkeep and maintenance of the Harkness carillon. Guild manager Ellen Dickinson ’97 MUS ’99 said the Office of the Secretary handled the finances of the transaction.

“When it was transported to New Haven, it turned a lot of heads,” Dickinson said of the traveling carillon. “It slowed traffic on I-95.”

The 26,000-pound instrument, which arrived in New Haven from Lancaster, Ohio, during Thanksgiving break, is one of two traveling carillons in the country. It is enclosed in a metal frame that forms a weatherproof, illuminated cabin with sliding, transparent panels on the sides. The carillonneurs practice twice a day — at 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. as usual. The rest of the time, the carillon sits locked in the parking lot.

“There’s a lot of random things going on at Yale, but this just surpasses the randomness,” Guild co-chair Andrew Lai ’10 said.

The mobile carillon is slightly different from the carillon in Harkness, Dickinson explained. The mobile carillon is in the European standard, which means the batons are closer together and the pedal board is straight and flat, as opposed to the concave American pedal board. The carillonneurs said it took them some time to get used to playing the new instrument.

Lai described the sound of the traveling carillon bells as lighter than Harkness’s bells.

“The new bells are like stars twinkling, with beautiful high notes,” he said..

But for Julie Zhu ’12, who said it is fun to play the carillon inside a box for a change, the experience pales in comparison to playing the instrument inside Harkness Tower.

“I do miss Harkness Tower. It is a wonderful instrument,” Zhu said, “Now it’s like not being a carillonneur anymore.”

Still, she said she finds it interesting to have students and area residents wave at her as she practices. Lai said this is a pleasant change, since no one sees the carillonneurs playing in Harkness, though many more can hear them.

Though scaffolding and tarp have been partially removed from the facade of Harkness over the past few weeks, Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said two weeks ago that restorations are not ahead of schedule and will be completed in time for Commencement on May 24, as planned.

“As far as we know, we are on track to play [in Harkness] by Commencement,” Lai said. “We are the soundtrack of Yale.”

The Guild of Carilloneurs was founded in 1949.

Comments

  • notification

    I wish there was a simple way of being notified in advance when these types of things were going to happen so we could actually make plans to experience them ourselves rather than read about it after the fact.