Berea College Carillon



A carillon is an outdoor musical instrument consisting of a minimum of 23 bells and as many as 70. A group of bells numbering 22 or fewer is known as a chime, such as the set of 10 bells in Phelps Stokes Chapel. Chime bells are normally used to play single-line melodies. Carillon music with harmony in addition to melody and rhythm is made possible by having the larger number of bells.

Berea’s carillon was built and installed by the Verdin Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, the world’s largest maker of carillons and other bell instruments. Richard Strauss, of Verdin, is the carillon’s designer.

Every carillon is a unique, custom-designed instrument, but the basic structure and playing mechanism is the same for all manually played instruments. The bells are hung stationary, bolted to steel frames installed in the an open or enclosed bell tower. Only the clappers move. The clappers are connected through a series of mechanical linkages to the carillon’s distinctive keyboard which is located in the playing room positioned directly below the bells. Lever-like keys are depressed with the loosely-clenched fists to play the smaller bells and the larger bells are played from a pedal keyboard. The force of the player’s hand or foot determines how loud or soft the tone is.

At Berea, the bells are hung enclosed in Draper Tower, with sound openings on all four sides. The unusually large playing room at Berea accommodates 15 -20 people to observe carillon performances.

Memorial Inscriptions

Several of the larger bells have raised letter inscriptions and intricate designs cast in bronze using the ancient “lost wax” process. Inscribed on the bourdon is the College’s motto “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth (Acts 17:26).” Referred to as “the Trustees Bell”, the bourdon was purchased with a gift from the College’s Trustees Memorial Fund. On the third largest bell is an ancient Sanskrit poem and on the fourth largest bell, is a verse from Psalm 109, “Awake my Soul! I will sing and make melody!” Former College president John B. Stephenson and his wife Jane contributed to the project, and their names are inscribed on two of the bells.

A New World Standard

Although almost 25 years in the making, Berea’s instrument is in the forefront of the carillon world. Working with the Verdin Company, the carillon’s designer, Richard Strauss, developed a new world standard keyboard using ergonomic studies and the best features of both European and American keyboard dimensions (currently these differ significantly). Strauss delivered a lecture on Berea College’s new keyboard at the International Congress of the World Federation of Carillonneurs earlier in July in Springfield, Ill. Berea’s new practice keyboard received rave reviews from carillonneurs from around the world at the International Congress.

Berea’s keyboard also incorporates the use of connecting rods made of polycarbonate, rather than stainless steel, which can more easily be bent. The flexible carbon rods ensure the carillon’s tone is not adversely affected.

Teaching Students

Courter, an internationally known carillonneur and a composer for the instrument, began playing the carillon while he was a student at Michigan State University. He continued his studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where he received his master’s degree in music. In 1987 and 1995 he spent sabbaticals at the Netherlands Carillon School, performing recitals and earning the Performing Artist’s Diploma, the carillonneur’s highest level of achievement.

Courter has won several international prizes with his original carillon compositions and his works have been published in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States. He has performed throughout the U.S. and Europe, and in 1993, was awarded the prestigious Berkeley Medal for “Distinguished Service to the Carillon” as a performer and composer for the instrument.

The College’s carillon will serve as a performance instrument and be used for student instruction. The historic Phelps Stokes Chime, a part of Berea’s campus since 1917, continues to be heard. Its Westminster chime sounds every quarter-hour and students regularly play tunes on the chime. Plans currently call for “bell sounds” from one or the other instrument to be heard on campus at 5 p.m. most days of the week.

How Berea College's Carillon Compares To Others

Berea’s carillon brings to four the number of carillons in Kentucky, and becomes the state’s largest. Those at Eastern Kentucky University and at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville are played from electric piano-type keyboards, which do not have control of expression. The Carroll Chime in Covington is known as a “light weight.” Its largest bell is approximately 600 lbs. and it has a range of four octaves.

Additional information is available at the Verdin Company and the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America.