International Carillon Concert Series plays through August

Julianne Vanden Wyngaard, GVSU carilloneur

On Wednesday, Aug. 2, Julianne Vanden Wyngaard will climb 112 stairs to perform the last concert of Grand Valley State University’s International Carillon Concert Series for the summer at the Beckering Carillon Tower on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. The series continues on GVSU’s Allendale campus each Sunday through Aug. 20, however.

Vanden Wyngaard is the university carillonneur for GVSU and president of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America.

Carillonneurs from around the world have joined her this summer for the concert series. Still to perform include Sue Bergren, of Naperville, Illinois (Aug. 6) and Ray McLellan, of Ann Arbor, Michigan (Aug.13). Vanden Wyngaard will perform the final concert of the series on Aug. 20.

This year marks the 23rd season of the International Carillon Concert Series at the Allendale campus and the 17th at the Pew campus.

The carillon is a unique instrument in the United States. Vanden Wyngaard said there are only 200 in the country and only 14 in Michigan, including the two at GVSU.

In comparison, Vanden Wyngaard said there are 200 in the Netherlands alone. Not a complete surprise given the carillon was first invented in the Netherlands and Belgium during the 14th and 15th century. It didn’t come to the United States until 1923.

Cook Carillon Tower on GVSU’s Allendale campus

Large instruments, carillons are housed in massive towers, which is often why they are found on university campuses, Vanden Wyngaard said. GVSU’s are located in the Beckering Carillon Tower and in the Cook Carillon Tower.

The carillon is a system of at least 23 bells attached to a keyboard consisting of several batons. When the baton is struck lightly by the carillonneur’s fist, the clapper within the bell strikes its side making the bell ring.

Cook Carillon Tower bells. The bells range in size from 12 lbs. to 5,000 lbs.

GVSU’s two carillons consist of 48 bells each. Vanden Wyngaard said the largest carillon in Michigan has 77 bells and is located at Kirk in the Hills, a Presbyterian church in Bloomfield.

Because the carillon is a unique instrument, there are few carillonneurs. One of Vanden Wyngaard’s goals is to encourage more GVSU students to give the instrument a try.

“I have a nucleus of students right now and I want to build that,” she said. She said most students hear about the opportunity via word of mouth from other students or professors as well as from hearing the instrument being played.

Vanden Wyngaard said students should be able to read music when they come to the carillon and it’s particularly helpful if they already play piano.

The instrument is tricky so students start on a practice carillon keyboard as they learn. “The margin of error is huge,” she said.

Vanden Wyngaard said basically any music can be arranged for the carillon and there are composers who specifically write for the instrument.

A quick YouTube search found carillon performer’s tackling songs as diverse as Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance’ to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.’

While the International Carillon Concert Series is reaching the end of its season, Vanden Wyngaard said she will also perform this fall ahead of the GVSU Fall Arts Celebration events on the university’s Allendale Campus.

Cook Carillon International Concert Series performances take place on Sundays at 8 p.m. on the Allendale Campus.

*Photos courtesy of Bernadine Carey-Tucker/GVSU University Communications

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