Summer concert series taking place at Elliott Clock Tower


Samantha Boggs

Amy Johansen played the carillon inside Elliott Tower.

At the mention of the Elliott Clock Tower, a few things come to mind: tallest building on campus, relatively new and a gift from Nancy Elliott. What many students may not know about the giant noisemaker is its rarity and function – an ancient instrument.

There are snug, spiral staircases inside the tower that lead up to an equally snug and intimate room with the best view of campus. An oversized organ-like instrument takes up most of the room is with several long, wooden foot pedals and two rows of dowel rod looking keys at waist height. Connected to the keys are wires, which reach the bells atop the inside of the tower.

This instrument is called a carillon, and every Friday at six o’clock through the end of July, Carillonneurs, or players of the carillon, are coming from all over the world to perform concerts for the public. The Summer Carillon Concert Series runs from June 23 – July 28 and after the performance, guests are welcome to tour the inside of the tower.

“Most people don’t know what this is and they think its an automated thing or electronic but a real person is up there playing this,” said Dennis Curry, University Carillonneur and applied instructor. “The instrument itself is over 500 years old and it started in the low countries of Europe… and the instrument’s pretty much the same today. A person plays with their fists and their feet.”

Curry has been playing the bell tower instrument for nearly 30 years and plays regularly at Kirk in the Woods in Bloomfield Township as well.

“I call it Medieval aerobics,” he said. “You get to climb stairs and then to play some of these instruments gets very heavy. You’re not swinging the bells, the wires are actually connected to the clapper, which gets pushed into the bells. It’s just a wonderful experience.”

According to Curry, there are only 180 carillons in North America and Elliott Tower is the 14th in Michigan. There are typically 23 or more bells, which come from different countries including France and England, though few are made in Michigan. Elliott Tower’s are Dutch.

During the concert series, the fountains are playing, the bells are blaring and people of all ages are walking up with family, folding chairs and picnic baskets.

Junior music student, Harrison Lavins was in attendance at the first concert of the season, listening to Amy Johansen, who came from Sydney, Australia to play.

“I’m a piano performance major,” he said. “I got an email about the event and we thought it would be a great opportunity to come and hear some really interesting music that a lot of people don’t get to hear. I’ve been playing for about nine years but I’ve never been able to see an instrument like the carillon.”

For students who want to learn and practice the carillon there is a practice instrument in O’Dowd Hall. Aside from the summer concert series, Curry can be heard from the top of the tower on campus every Friday at noon.

“It’s a rare honor for me to be able to design a new instrument from the ground-floor up and this is such a unique setting with the fountain and the nice green space around here,” Curry said. “It’s an icon.”