Refurbished carillon chimes once again

February 24, 2019

After months of silence, the bells of the Rochester Carillon rang out once again on Friday.

“It’s the biggest restoration project in the carillon’s 90-year history,” said Matt Dacy, museum director at Mayo Clinic. “This was by far the largest project of the carillon since it was installed and the intention is, if you are going to make that effort, we plan that this will last for decades and generations to come. It is that level of a commitment.”

The bells were silent for months, the longest period without the bells since they were installed in 1928.

Carillonneur Austin Ferguson said he was surprised at how quickly the work went despite the complexity of the job. He said that once the crews from Christoph Paccard, of Charleston, S.C., and workers from Belgium arrived, it took about 19 days, including some 12-hour days and weekends, to reassemble the refurbished carillon.

During the approximately six-month hiatus, Ferguson spent the time catching up on administrative work, reorganizing and cataloguing both his personal and Mayo’s carillon libraries as well as working on new and different arrangements to try out in the upcoming weeks. Ferguson said he plans to play “Dancing Queen” in a few weeks. He also used the time to practice.

The four largest bells used to be at ground level and were raised about 5½ feet. The move is expected to help the acoustics of the bells as they are now level with window grates.

Ferguson missed that day of action because he thought moving the heavy bells up would take about two weeks. It took about a day and half. That happened in September. Crews returned in January to continue working on the carillon. A highlight of the renovation is also the new strike system for the bells. The old one ran on the original pneumatic system and recently broke down, Ferguson said.

The new system can control 16 bells electronically. With the push of a button, Ferguson can make the bells ring — one at a time if he choses, something he was unable to do in with the old system. Soon, Ferguson will be able to control that group of bells with an app on his phone from anywhere in the world.

Ferguson was the one who brought the need for renovations to the attention of the administration. He said he was a little surprised to get approval but said he also noticed how supportive the community was.

“Here at Mayo, it’s been around so long that it is engrained in the psyche of Rochester on the whole, not just the clinic,” he said.

That support has also been present in the messages Ferguson has received during the bells’ silence through emails and Tweets.

“We kept the bells, we kept the keyboard, we replaced everything else so it is brand spanking new,” Ferguson said. “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a player, essentially for all intents and purposes, it is a new instrument just with the old bells, which is good because the bells here are particularly lovely.”