Carillon wrestling

Ten visitors arrive at Rockefeller Chapel a half-hour before the Sunday evening carillon concert, part of Rockefeller’s summer series, to hear assistant carillonneur James Fackenthal give a tour of the bells. “Has anyone ever seen a carillon?” he asks. One visitor raises her hand. “Has anyone ever seen a carillon player?” he jokes. “There’s one right over there,” he says, gesturing to tonight’s performer, Andrea McCrady, who hails from Spokane, Washington.

Fackenthal leads the group up a dark, steep, winding staircase that seems to go on forever. As they cross the catwalk, he cautions the visitors to watch their heads for low pipes. The group faces another winding staircase before finally reaching the small, dim room where the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon sits. Sweaty and breathless after climbing 200-plus stairs, these listeners have the privilege of watching McCrady’s hour-long performance up close.

“This is a lot of heavy metal here,” quips Fackenthal, noting that the carillon, given by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in honor of his mother, is the second largest musical instrument in the world—the largest is another carillon Rockefeller gave to Riverside Church in New York City. The biggest bell on the Chicago instrument weighs 18-and-a-half tons.

After a brief introduction to her program, McCrady, wearing a teal T-shirt and a white sweatband to hold back her short red hair, announces that she’s ready “to wrestle this thing.” She uses her fists to play a set of keys at the top of the carillon, and her feet to play a row of pedals along the bottom, attached to the heaviest bells. Her hands zip left and right while her legs stretch to reach the high and low notes on the foot pedals. To sound one of the biggest bells, McCrady, about 5-foot-3-inches, asks Fackenthal to stomp its pedal, which pulls a 500-pound clapper.

Out on the lawn, 20-some people lounge on blankets and in lawn chairs, reading or eating as they listen to McCrady’s first selection, Michael Corette’s “Le carillon des morts.” “Depending on the weather, a dozen to 100” listeners typically turn out, says Lorraine Brochu, AM’88, assistant to the dean for external affairs. This Sunday visitors on the ground enjoy blue sky and beautiful music—but do they know what the carillonneur looks like?

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Stairway_thumb.jpg Side Carillon_thumb.jpg Lawn1_thumb.jpg

Photos (left to right): Rockefeller or Hitchcock's Vertigo?; McCrady at the keys; listeners relax on the lawn.

August 4, 2006