Mass.— It’s 2:40 pm on a Wednesday, and the theme from Super Mario Brothers rings out on the Wellesley College campus as students pass between classes. The song emanates from Wellesley’s Galen Stone Tower, and the students who play the carillon within.
While the majesty of the massive bells evoke the pomp and circumstance of an ancient tradition, student carillonneurs often feature oddball tunes and personal favorites to keep the tradition au courant in the 21st century.
It’s the largest instrument in the world—and possibly the least recognized. There are fewer than 200 carillons in North America. Similarly, performing for an unseen audience often allows the Wellesley students who play it — the Guild of Carillonneurs — to go unrecognized.
“Being a member of the guild is a very solitary activity since only one person can play at a time,” said senior and guild member Katie Musgrove, of Olathe, Kan. “The carillonneur is an anonymous figure just up there in the tower.”
View from the Tower Photos by Jane Bendfeldt '08
The Wellesley carillon has 32 bells made of solid bronze, ranging in weight from 80 to 1,600 pounds. The largest bell is more than four feet tall and about three feet in diameter. The bells are controlled by a series of levers that control the clapper inside the bell.
The Guild of Carillonneurs is one of the most active groups on campus, playing two to three concerts per week. The guild also performs for events such as commencement and baccalaureate ceremonies. Last year, Wellesley students played more than 100 carillon concerts, amounting to more than 1,000 minutes of ringing these magical and majestical bells.
The guild opens the tower to visitors several times during the year, most recently for its “Haunted Tower” celebration on Halloween. The event featured candy and spooky music, including the theme from Harry Potter.
The Wellesley College carillon was installed in 1931, when then-student Charlotte Nichols Greene gave the instrument with the stipulation that students would always be able to play it. The guild has continued to serve this purpose with each generation of students instructing the next, passing down this tradition. Students interested in playing the carillon fill out an application — the only major stipulation being they must be able to read music. If accepted, they spend a semester of study with a junior member on a practice carillon. Junior and senior members take lessons with Wellesley College alumna Margaret Angelini ’85 of Hopkinton, Mass.
To graduate to the junior and senior level, students must show they have built a repertoire and must arrange a piece of music for the carillon. These arrangements range from the Star Wars theme to Bach cello suites.
Junior Amy Allport of Frankenmuth, Mich., first heard about the carillon as a prospective student, but didn’t become interested until hearing about another student’s experiences with the guild. Prior to her involvement, she had played clarinet in concert and marching bands and had taken piano lessons.
“The guild has allowed me to explore opportunities that would not have been possible with other groups; in addition to learning a new instrument, I have been able to experiment with composition and arrangement,” she said.
One arrangement Allport put together was the theme from The Godfather — a song she had enjoyed playing on the piano and which translated easily to the carillon keyboard.
“Though piano and carillon keyboards have a similar layout, the playing technique is quite different, and many songs that lie well beneath the hands on a piano are clumsy and difficult on a carillon,” she said. “The Godfather theme does not have this problem and moves naturally between the different keyboards.”
Allport is currently working on a version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D and plans to arrange a medley from The Sound of Music.
Although Wellesley students may not remember the individual performers, most will never forget the sound of the carillon ringing out on campus.
“When I’m walking around and hear the bells, I feel so happy,” Musgrove said. “Even though people can’t see me when I’m playing, I like to think I’m brightening others’ days. It’s such a cheerful thing to hear.”
Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries.