Carillon Concert Review: Oakland’s Own, Dennis Curry


Sam Boggs

People gather for a picnic under the chiming clocktower.

Originally designed over 500 years ago, carillon bell towers, speckled across the lowers Europe, found their place as objects that marked times of great importance and entertained the populous.

Today, one of the greatest inherent challenges facing these behemoths lies on those who are responsible for operating them. With over 400 towers worldwide, 180 towers across the United States and 14 located in Michigan, scarcity of proficient players is common.

However, despite the dwindling numbers, Dennis Curry carries on the tradition.

Curry was first introduced to the instrument while attending Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian church in Bloomfield Hills. After refining his skills on the world’s largest carillon for over 28 years, Curry sought to expand his influence.

“I’ve played in every continent except Antarctica,” he said. “My full-time job deals with a lot of global [travel].”

With the 49 fully chromatic bells in Oakland’s Elliott Tower poised for playing, Oakland University extended an invitation to Curry as the university’s first carillon player in 2015.

“We’re the same height as the Statue of Liberty,” Curry said. “From the tip of her toes to the top of her torch it’s 151 feet.”

Old meets new in Elliott tower as it is equipped with modern technology to ease in its operation.

“This carillon itself has a computer so I’m not up here every 15 minutes ringing it,” Curry said. “The computer activates air compressors to shoot air, decompressing a piston attached to a lever and releases a clapper onto the stationery hanging bells.”

While the computer may be used to perform simple tasks such as routine time tracking and simple preprogrammed songs, it has some faults.

“It doesn’t know how to play loud or soft like a person can,” Curry said.

Along with performing, Curry hosts a weekly class every Friday in O’Dowd Hall to instruct eager newcomers.

“I’ve got four now, but in the fall we’re going to have an applied music course that you can take like piano or voice,” he said.

Mary Roland is among the novice players currently enrolled in lessons.

“This is the largest percussion instrument and there is nothing else like this in the world,” she said. “To be one of the few people, even as a beginner, is so amazing. It’s sprinkles on a cupcake.”

Individuals interested in hearing the bells can witness a live performance every Friday at noon. The 30-minute concert is put on by Curry and features themes from worldly events, or issues pertaining to campus.

As part of the Summer Carillon Concert Series, every Friday from 6-8 p.m. a themed concert will take place featuring an esteemed carillonneur.

Tracey Barilka, an Oakland alumna, has attended a handful of these concerts in the past.

“It’s so relaxing to hear such a beautiful sound on campus,” she said. “The tower and its bells really complete the atmosphere.”