Something for Everyone at the Bells of Summer

Illustration of Rockefeller Chapel

From July 2019

By Belen Edwards

2019 marks the 54th Bells of Summer, a weekly concert series played on Rockefeller Chapel’s carillon. Running from June 23 to August 25, the series features carillonneurs from around the world, each with their own style.

“Here, we’re all about variety,” said University Carillonneur Joey Brink. This year’s program reflects that, as it showcases new, local, and international players. Carillonneurs who play at the Bells of Summer go on to play the carillon at the Chicago Botanic Garden and in Naperville, Illinois, completing what Brink called “the Chicago circuit for carillon players.”

New carillonneurs playing this year are Leslie Chan and Alex Johnson, both of whom have recently passed their carillon examination and become a part of the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America (GCNA). This summer’s local performers include Kimberly Schafer, who plays the carillon at St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church in Chicago, and Carlo van Ulft, Director and Carillonneur of the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon in Springfield, Illinois. Brink will play the last concert of the summer on August 25.

From farther afield. Amy Johansen from Australia, Bernard Winsemius from the Netherlands, and Jan Verheyen from Belgium are joining this year’s lineup as well.  

Cedric Honings will accompany Verheyen on his guitar in what has been dubbed a “guitarillon” performance. “I know that sounds crazy,” Brink said, “because they’re all the way up in the tower.” The solution? Honings will play his guitar into a microphone, which will then be projected across campus by speakers in Rockefeller.

Verheyen and Honings’s guitarillon performance is not the first time the Rockefeller carillon has been accompanied by another instrument. Brink was accompanied by trombonist Riley Leithc during the 2018 Carillon New Music Festival. Another carillonneur, Frans Haagen, was accompanied by Sihao He, a cellist, at the same festival.

For the latter, composer Geert d’Hollander “wrote a piece that was a reaction to a Bach cello suite. The cello performs the Bach prelude that was written hundreds of years ago, and then the carillon plays the new composition that reacts to that prelude,” Brink said.

The carillon can also be accompanied by a pre-recorded electronic track played through the speakers. This is known as “electroacoustic” music—the carillon is played acoustically, while other sounds or tracks are added electronically. Brink will perform two electroacoustic pieces during his Bells of Summer performance.

Aside from the variety in how the carillon is accompanied by other instruments or sounds, each carillonneur at the Bells of Summer has a unique program of songs they will be performing. Verheyen and Honings will be playing a Bach piece alongside a Michael Jackson medley and the Game of Thrones and Star Wars themes. Jeremy Chesman, University Carillonneur at Missouri State University, will perform a series of songs from Sesame Street and The Muppets. Duo Michael Solotke and Tiffany Lin’s program mixes classic movie themes with concert hall music.

When speaking to this wide range of songs, Brink said: “It’s hard to know, as carillon players, who is listening. We have no idea, so it’s important to play music that can reach everyone in the community. It’s strategic when we play a pop song then follow it with a contemporary song that’s written for the instrument that we want to play and want people to hear.”

This music, the carillon, and the Bells of Summer are all ways of bringing the UChicago and Hyde Park community together. “The carillon is a part of the University, but it’s really heard by everyone walking around the neighborhood, whether they’re University affiliates or not,” Brink said.

Attendees of the Bells of Summer often bring picnics and chairs to the lawn outside Rockefeller. People across the street play lawn games by the Booth School of Business or throw a frisbee on the Midway as they follow along with the program. After the concert is over, some take a tour of the tower and the carillon.

“Summer concerts are very common in the carillon world,” Brink said. “At the beginning of the 20th century in Europe, technical improvements and improvements in playing allowed for expression and variation of touch on the instrument and allowed people to play real music on the instrument. And that’s when we started to see instruments host concerts, and people would actually come and listen. The Bells of Summer is a return to that.”