Sing the Carillon Bells

A short walk from our house lives the “single largest musical instrument ever built”. I guess it’s one of those things that’s too close to home, so you never appreciate it.

It was the last weekend of their summer concert series, and Sara said we should go check it out. I have to admit, I was a little reluctant. It just sort of seemed like a big to do, packing a picnic lunch and climbing all those stairs, not to mention that the kids were in particularly bad moods that day. All that just to see some bells?

I have to say, I totally had to eat my words.

Hiking up to the tiny little “performance room” to see the bells played was totally worth carrying Oliver up the 271 steps it took to get there. Seeing it played really was amazing. The tour guide said that the Carillon Bells were a “percussion instrument” and that was absolutely correct. I imagined someone playing a simple keyboard, but in actuality there are little mechanical wooden levers that must be struck. In order to play, you are literally striking the bells, and the harder you hit the levers, the louder the note.

The carillonist, James Fackenthal, did an amazing job, pounding away the 100 tons of bronze at an absolutely frantic pace, fists and sweat flying. I can’t really describe what is like seeing such an interesting and masterful performance in such an intimate room, high above the city of Chicago, for the price of $3. (that’s $3 total for all of us)

Even the kids enjoyed it, especially Oliver. At first we were sitting in front of the control console, and Oliver kept leaning around back to sneak peeks at Mr. Fackenthal playing. Evie enjoyed it, but after a few songs she was ready to move on. I think Oliver would have stayed and watched the entire concert.

Afterwards, we hiked up a few more stairs to the very top of the bell tower for some amazing views, before going back down to the bottom and listening to the rest of the concert from the ground. Even that seemed intimate, since the immense Rockefeller Chapel dwarfed the picnickers spread out in the grass below.

For anybody in the neighborhood, make sure you make it up to the top to see the performance at least once. Highly recommended.


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