A dedication concert for a large traditional carillon is rare. According to Rick Watson of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, only two such instruments have been installed in the last 12 years. That changes on Wednesday, September 6, when famed carillonneur Joey Brink of the University of Chicago performs the dedication concert on Salisbury University’s new Brown and Church Carillon.
This is the first traditional carillon at a university in Maryland, the third one in the state. According to Watson, only 184 true carillons are spread across all of the North American continent. The total weight of the completed SU instrument, including its 48 bells, is estimated at over 20 tons. A special crane had to be brought across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to lift its 16-ton supporting cap. Because of the cost of large instruments such as this, and because of the necessity of a very substantial tower in which to house them, few carillons of this size are installed, Watson said.
The SU instrument was made possible by a $2.4 million gift from Delaware entrepreneur Bill Church, given in memory of his late partner Sam Brown, both music lovers. The two largest bells, which have a combined weight of nearly four tons, are inscribed with their names. The two were cast at London’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which also made the Liberty Bell and Big Ben. The company closed earlier this year after more than five centuries in operation.
The remaining 46 bells were cast at Meeks, Watson & Co., of Georgetown, OH, an hour southeast of Cincinnati. Meeks, Watson is the largest manufacturer of carillon bells in the country. Seventy-one-year-old Richard Watson, who designed the instrument, is believed to be the only carillon bell turner left in the U.S.
The smallest bell weighs just over 16 pounds, giving the instrument a four-octave range at concert pitch. There are only a couple dozen similar ones in the country, Watson said.
“As a traditional, true carillon, the Salisbury instrument is played from a direct, mechanical keyboard allowing full dynamic expression through variation of touch. The keyboard has 48 manual keys or ‘batons’ corresponding to the 48 bells; these are played by depressing them with a loosely clenched fist,” he said.
Like an organ, the keyboard also has extensive foot pedals. “The pedals provide an easier way of playing the bass bells, with their heavier touch.”
Five years in planning, preparation and construction, the carillon caps the Patricia R. Guerrieri Academic Commons (GAC), a $117 million, 221,000 square foot award-winning complex with a state-of-the-art library. Opened in 2016, the GAC was an immediate hit with students. Located in the heart of SU, its 147-foot-tall carillon tower is the highest point on campus and is believed to be the tallest enclosed structure in Wicomico County, as well.
According to Bryan Irwin of Sasaki Associates, architects for the GAC, “The carillon tower is a powerful symbol for Salisbury University, seen from throughout the campus as well as the community—a daily reminder of the steadfast role the university plays in the life of the region. … As for the carillon itself … we love how it serves as a counterpoint to the state-of-the-art technology of the Academic Commons and a reminder of certain truisms: the importance of craft and craftsmanship, the value of traditions … and the ability of music to unify a community.”
The Brink concert, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 6, following a short dedication ceremony, is free and open to the public. Bring a lawn chair or blanket and head for Red Square. It also will be live streamed that night. For streaming information, visit the SU website at www.salisbury.edu and look for the carillon announcement which will include a link. For more information, call 410-543-6030.