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Carillon Profile: Michigan State University

September 27, 2022
Carillon keyboard cabin
The carillon clavier in the playing cabin (photo credit: Sally Harwood)

Beaumont Memorial Tower

Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan

The Michigan State University’s Beaumont Memorial Tower in East Lansing is centrally located on campus in an open, wooded park ideal for carillon concerts. Apart from its beautiful natural setting, Beaumont Memorial Tower is distinguished as the first recipient of a Michigan Historical Marker in 1955 on the occasion of the centennial celebration of the university. Alumnus John W. Beaumont and his wife Alice donated the funds for the tower and chime as a monument to the college’s mission and achievements.

The tower was designed in the neo-Gothic style by the architectural firm of Donaldson and Meier of Detroit and built in 1929. The current carillon of Beaumont Memorial Tower started as a ten-bell chime cast by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, England, in 1928 and installed in 1929. The chime was performed manually from a baton keyboard, and the bells were automated to ring the quarter-hour and hour. Shortly after its installation, three more bells were ordered from Gillett & Johnston and installed in 1930, so that the college’s Alma Mater, “Close by the Winding Cedar,” could be performed with the available pitches.

The chime underwent multiple expansions and improvements until it became the world-class carillon it is today. Russell Daubert, the first chimer, advocated for the expansion of the instrument to a carillon, and in 1935 ten more bells were added—bringing the total number of bells to 23. In the late 1940s, due to the advocacy of new carillonist Wendell Westcott, 14 more bells were added in 1950, bringing the total to 37, but these treble bells were cast by the Dutch firm Petit & Fritsen. The Michigan State College Fund solicited for ten more bells shortly thereafter, and six treble bells were installed in 1952, while four bass bells were installed in 1959. The new trebles were cast by Petit & Fritsen, while the four bass bells were cast by Gillett & Johnston. By this time, the carillon consisted of 47 bells at a concert size of four octaves.

By the early 1970s, the instrument had fallen into disrepair, and in 1986 the bells were disconnected from the keyboard and automatic playing mechanism. The university hired the Royal Eijsbouts Bell Foundry of the Netherlands restore the clock mechanism, automate the lowest 27 bells, install a new central transmission system with directed cranks, replace the 20 Petit & Fritsen bells, and add two more bells. The replacement treble bells rectified the tuning discrepancy between the bells cast by two firms. Margo Halsted, the University of Michigan carillonneur, was a strong supporter of the carillon’s renovation and was the formal consultant on the project. After this last renovation was completed, the carillon consisted of 49 bells. The bells are pitched from C3 to D7, absent two bass notes, although they transpose up one whole step from their keyboard position (lowest bell keyed at B-flat).

Margo Halsted served as the visiting university carillonneur from 1996 to 1997, at which time her student Ray McLellan was appointed to the position of university carillonneur. He served in this position until his untimely passing in April 2021. The university carillonist of Grand Valley State University, Julianne Vanden Wyngaard, served as the interim carillonist, and Jonathan Lehrer started as the new university carillonist in August 2022. Other regular performers include Rachel Drobnak, Laurie Harkema, Sally Harwood, and Bill McHarris.

When classes are in session, the carillon is played at noon most days of the week and for special events. Lehrer will continue the carillon performance studio started by his predecessor. The Muelder Summer Carillon Recital series occurs on five to six consecutive Wednesdays in July and August at 6:00 p.m., started in 1996 through the generosity of faculty member and administrator Milton Muelder.

—Kimberly Schafer, PhD, Carillonist and campanologist, Chicago, Illinois

Carillon website: music.msu.edu/carillon/history-of-beaumont-tower-and-the-carillon

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