Carillon News

May 23, 2005

Brian Swager is carillon editor of THE DIAPASON.

Riverside reborn

The installed in the Park Avenue Baptist Church in 1925. Benefactor John D.
Rockefeller, Jr., continued his close collaboration with Cyril Johnston and
project consultant Frederick Mayer when in 1930 the instrument was moved to The
Riverside Church and expanded to 74 bells. For all its glory in the bass range,
G&J had yet to thoroughly succeed in producing bells in the treble range
that were consistent in quality of tuning and timbre. Furthermore, the sound of
the bells was somewhat muffled, and carillon music could not be heard clearly
from the ground. The church was persuaded to replace the 58 highest treble
bells in 1955, and unfortunately, the new bells cast by the Van Bergen foundry
of The Netherlands proved to be a step in the wrong direction.

For the most recent renovation, the Riverside Church chose
Olympic Carillon, Inc. of Port Townsend, Washington. The re-engineering of the
instrument, under the direction of Peter Hurd, included the replacement of the
58 treble bells, fabrication of a new playing console, revision of the bell chamber
and playing cabin, and installation of a new transmission system. The mechanism
for the chiming peal and hour strike was to be installed this spring. The 74
bells of the carillon range in weight from the 10-pound treble bell to the
40,900-pound bourdon bell, which is the largest and heaviest tuned bell in the

The new bells were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and
were designed to complement the original 16 Gillett & Johnston bells. In
order to have greater sound projection from this 390-foot tower, the new bells
have considerably greater mass than the Gillett & Johnston treble bells
from 1930.

The former playing cabin and a machine room were removed
from the bell chamber as they both blocked the egress of bell sound from the
tower. The new playing console was designed to a “new world
standard” by Olympic Carillon. It is constructed of African Padauk
hardwood and marine-grade stainless steel, equipped with stainless steel
“flexures” for manual keys and roller bearing clevis assemblies for
the pedal coupler mechanism. The Carillonneur’s Study was also supplied
with a new practice console.

Former carillonneurs of The Riverside Church were Kamiel
Lefevere (1927-1960), James R. Lawson (1960-1989), and Joseph Clair
Davis (1990-1998). Dionisio A. Lind is the current carillonneur.

The rededication of the instrument was celebrated on Sunday
17 October 2004. Milford Myhre then gave the dedicatory recital. The service
included a prayer of thanksgiving, words from the architect, and comments from
David Hurd on the renovations. Mary Morgan was present for the dedication and
recital. She shared the legacy of her great grandmother, Laura Spelman
Rockefeller, for whom the Riverside carillon is named:

“I never met Laura Spelman. She was born in 1839, a
hundred years before my birth . . .

“I think our family will be very touched to hear about
the efforts and the victorious conclusion of what’s happening here today
with the carillon. It seems grandfather’s gift was like a seed, and now
it’s turned into a forest of accomplishment all around this beautiful
instrument, bringing such amazing joy and spiritual uplifting to many people.

“So I also want to join my family in giving our thanks
to all of those who spent so much time and effort and took such care in this

“Laura was brought up in a home that was very
connected to her community and to the important and emotionally troubling times
they were living in. She went to [high] school in Ohio, and that’s where
she met John D. Rockefeller.

“Laura loved music. She became an accomplished pianist
and also had a lovely singing voice. One of the things that she and John D.
Rockefeller did when they first started going out with each other [was]
accompany each other in the evening singing and playing the piano. When Laura
married John D. Rockefeller, they both had incredibly similar sensitivities,
values, and interests.

“To dedicate this carillon to her…is a beautiful
thing. She had a spirit that swelled and expressed itself way before its time.
She was courageous and her spirit soared. . .

“Her middle name is Celestia. . . . Laura Celestia
Spelman was her name before she was married. I like to think of that name,
Celestia. . .  I think it’s
really appropriate today, now as we get near time of the concert with this beautiful

“There was a foundation . . . that grandfather set up
in her name. It was called the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation.
This foundation supported areas of Laura’s interest that included child
study, education, public health, race relations, religion, and social welfare.
An early beneficiary of support was the Atlantic Baptist Female Seminary, which
was subsequently renamed Spelman College in honor of Mrs. Rockefeller’s
family. . .  As many of you know,
Spelman is the oldest black college for women.

“So I take my hat off to my great-grandmother, and I
am so proud to be her great granddaughter. And I am happy to be present with
you here today as we listen to this beautiful carillon and as we feel our
spirits rise and expand, as we hopefully can enter into that place within us
where we can bring out the best of who we are, just as the music swells to the
celestial heavens.”

Send items for “Carillon News” to Dr. Brian
Swager, c/o The Diapason, 380 E. Northwest Hwy., Suite 200, Des Plaines, IL
60016-2282; e-mail:

<[email protected]>. For information on the Guild
of Carillonneurs in North America, write to: GCNA, 37 Noel Dr., Williamsville,
NY 14221.

Related Content

July 20, 2021
The Leuven (Belgium) Bell and Carillon Society Campanae Lovanienses organized an international contest for carillon composition and arrangement…
March 31, 2020
Photo: The Leaning Tower of Niles, Illinois (photo credit: Kimberly Schafer) The village of Niles, Illinois, on the northwest border of Chicago, has…