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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

GVSU Campus Bells Ring

by Mary Isca Pirkola

When Julianne Vanden Wyngaard came to Grand Valley in 1965, there was no carillon tower on campus, not even a music major among the academic program offerings. Now there are two that serve as the centerpieces for two campuses. Vanden Wyngaard joined the university’s full-time music faculty in 1967 when Grand Valley established the cluster colleges, and the arts and performance groups grew rapidly.

As Department of Music chair from 1984-1996, Vanden Wyngaard refined the course and degree offerings and worked to procure accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music. She also worked to procure the two iconic campus landmarks. With President Emeritus Arend D. Lubbers, Vanden Wyngaard was instrumental in bringing the Cook Carillon Tower to the Allendale Campus in 1994, and the Beckering Family Carillon to the Pew Grand Rapids Campus in 2000.

“President Lubbers had a fine vision for the university, including the addition of a carillon,” said Vanden Wyngaard. “He asked me if I would be interested in learning how to play it, or if we should get an automated version.” Vanden Wyngaard wanted to learn and invited Margo Halstead, the University of Michigan carillonist, to Allendale each month for lessons until the dedication in 1994. The Cook Carillon Tower measures 100 feet to the top of its spire. It houses a carillon consisting of 48 bronze bells cast in the Netherlands. They vary in tone, based on size and weight.

Some Facts About the Bells

The bells range from 7.5 inches to more than 51 inches, and weigh from 14 to nearly 3,000 pounds. Arranged in chromatic series, the bells are played by a carillonneur who climbs 61 steps to the playing cabin, located just below the bells and clock mechanism. The bells are connected by cables to a keyboard and pedal board that permit loud or soft expression through a variation of hard or soft strikes.

The Beckering Family Carillon Tower measures 151 feet, with 112 steps to the playing chamber. Its 48 bells were cast at a foundry in France.

“Carillon music on the page looks very similar to piano sheet music,” said Vanden Wyngaard. “Music written in the treble clef is played with two hands, using loosely closed fists. Music in the bass clef is played with the feet.”

JulianneVanden Wyngaard, Carillon Performer

Vanden Wyngaard has been the principal performer on the Cook and Beckering carillons. Each summer from 1996-1998, she studied at the Netherlands Carillon School. In 2000, Vanden Wyngaard spent her six-month sabbatical learning more challenging music, and successfully completed the requirements for the diploma in performance, literature and arranging. Vanden Wyngaard also gives lessons to make the carillon accessible to students and area musicians who want to learn to play this extraordinary instrument.

In 2005, Vanden Wyngaard hosted more than 130 carillonists at Grand Valley during the annual congress of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. Each year since then, Grand Valley’s annual Summer Carillon Series provides many opportunities to hear performances by some of the world’s finest carillonneurs on both campuses.

Other carillon concerts are performed during the holidays and special campus events, such as convocation, commencement and Fall Arts Celebration events.

“Having the carillon in my life has allowed me to make a slight right turn part-way through my career, as I pursued a new instrument,” said Vanden Wyngaard. “It has opened so many doors for me and allowed me to bring beautiful music to so many people that I will be forever grateful to Grand Valley and those in position to have made this happen.”

Listen to a one-minute concert as Ms. Vanden Wyngaard plays the GVSU Cook Carillon

Photograph by Bernadine Carey-Tucker

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