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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Carillonist, Julianne Vanden Wyngaard

by Cindy Laug

published: August 1st, 2015

Julianne Vanden Wyngaard recalls, “When I first came in 1965, we only had the cluster colleges and then GV State College, and finally Grand Valley State University. In the 1960’s the faculty totaled less than 50 on campus. The dining area had two long tables in Lake Michigan Hall. You knew everyone, faculty and students. The first class had about 263 students. Our music department had a choir but we did not have a performance space so we would travel to area churches to perform. We would hold a weekend of just performing arts where guests, artists, and faculty performed in the field house and that was before the dome fell. Then in 1971 the Louis Armstrong Theater, that only held 498, was built. Bursting again in 1998, we renovated adding the Sherman Van Solkema Recital hall.”

Julianne inherited her musical talent from her mother, Edith, an accomplished pianist. Mrs. Rambeau was versatile enough to play popular music (jazz) with Herman Curtis’ nightclub orchestra but was also well versed in classical so that she was able to accompany her daughter on the second piano. She played evenings at the Log Cabin for 12-15 years where the band played popular music for dancing. Mrs. Rambeau played both the piano and jazz organ but also played organ for the Methodist Church thus earning her the reputation of both a classical music teacher and performer. 

Julianne’s musical abilities were evident at an early age and she began her studies at age 4. She studied under Mamie Sheldon Malinowski, and then Chester J. Berger, Director of the Berger School of Music serving as her tutor and advisor. She recalls deciding at about age 7, like most children do, that she didn’t want to play anymore. “My mom told me to call Miss Sheldon and tell her I wasn’t coming. I just couldn’t do it. My mom knew what she was doing.”

Coming to GVSU in 1965 as a part time piano accompanist, Julianne joined the faculty in 1967 in its early formative years bringing the total number of music faculty to 3. She contributed to the music department’s development and direction over the years.

During her professional career, Julianne performed as a soloist with Arthur Fiedler (pops conductor) and the Grand Rapids Symphony on July 30, 1972. It was an exciting time for both her and GVSU. She also was soloist in Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor” describing this event as one of the most memorable times in her musical career. In 1979, she was invited to play with the Youth Symphony at The Hague in the Netherlands.

In 1992-93, Don Lubbers, GVSU president, having already acquired a donor, sent someone over to talk to the music faculty about building a carillon program. The faculty said no, they needed more classrooms and teachers. One year later Lubber’s question to them was if they wanted real or fake bells for the soon to be built carillon tower.  Julianne said, “We were smart enough to have said “real.” The plan was to turn the new program over to George Shirley, the organ instructor. But unfortunately, George died before completion of the tower.” 

For Julianne, It seemed like a reasonable and logical transition from piano to carillon. And that became a right turn in her career. Julianne spent several summer trips to the Netherlands along with her sabbatical to earn her performance diploma from Netherlands Carillon School in 2000.

When asked about her GVSU career and she responds: “My biggest accomplishment was bringing the carillon to the west Michigan community. Michigan now has a total of 14 carillon towers and GVSU owns 2 of them. There is such a rich heritage of Dutch culture that the folks in this area are dedicated fans.” She feels her influence on the GVSU Arts at Noon Series in another accomplishment. "I put a lot of life and variety into the series. We booked a Blue Grass group and I took lots of grief for that– but we are teaching our students about all kinds of music. The series still has a huge following of faculty, staff, retirees, and of course, our students."

Julianne is still the principal performer of the GVSU carillons. There is a memorial bell on the south bank of the Zumberge pond on the Allendale campus dedicated to Julianne Vanden Wyngaard for her GVSU work with her students, colleagues, peers, and the community. She said, “I have been here for more than half of my life and as long as I can climb those steps, I hope to be here playing.”


Available Online

Ms. Vanden Wyngaard describes the GVSU Cook Carillon, and plays a short selection.

Listen to a one-minute concert by Ms. Vanden Wyngaard on the GVSU Cook Carillon.

Available at the Grand Rapids Public Library

Carillons of Belgium and Holland by William Gorham Rice

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