The Bells of Alfred, NY 

Stories of Alfred University's Carillon


(In 2004 a story was released that "a group of Alumni purchased some historically significant bells that were counterfeit!"--"only documented counterfeit bells in the world" ---story from Wellsville Daily Reporter by Kathryn Ross follows at bottom of this page.)




LARGEST BELL - The largest of the 47 bells in the Davis Memorial Carillon at Alfred University weighs 3850 pounds.  This was one of eight heavy bells donated to the University by John P. Herrick in 1953.  They were cast at Arle-Rixtel, Holland by Petiti and Fritzen, bell founders since 1660.  *The carillon also houses the only ancient Flemish bells in the western hemisphere. *(This may now be in dispute; see story below.)




DAVIS CARILLON-What seems to be an oil derrick on Alfred University Campus is actually the Davis Memorial Carillon.  The original 35 bells, costing approsimately $10,000, were hung in a wooden frame tower in 1937.  A new steel tower was built by oil workers, when more bells were added in 1953.

AU Carillon Institute one of a kind

by Peg Clark

(published in Wellsville Daily Reporter, Wellsville NY - July 26, 1979)

     ALFRED--"Remember to keep your little finger under, to make a fist on top of the keys," Joanne Droppers told Judith Penini during an instruction period at the Alfred University Carillon Institute Wednesday.

     Miss Penini tightened her clenched hand and began to pound upon the "keyboard" of levers which make up the carillon clavier and sound the tuned bells.  This time she played the folksong correctly.

     In its second year, the week-long course at Alfred is the only one of its kind, providing instruction to play the rare instrument, which consists of at least 23 chromatically tuned cast bells, hung high in a tower.

     Intensive instruction from distinguished carillonneurs, lectures and performances by guest artists, and practice on the Davis Memorial Carillon are highlights of the week.

     "We are not attempting to attract multitudes to the institute," explained James W. Chapman, director of the institute and coordinator of music programs at the university.

     "The purpose is to serve the needs of the people who come," he went on.

     The six students comprise a wide range in background and experience.

     Evelyn Ehrlich of Belmont, who works in the university library, is playing the carillon for the first time.  On the other hand, June Sommerville, a music teacher from Hamilton, Ontario, attended last year, and plays three carillons in Canada regularly.

     Other students include Charles Hogg, a Hamilton music teacher who considers himself new to the bells.  Miss Penini, a Wesley College sophomore, Linda Cramer, a student at Columbia University, and Andrew Stalder a retired foreign service office from West Henrietta.

     Mr. Stadler, who began playing on the University of Rochester carillon for only a few months, stated he has been learning "new music, technique and is hearing great music."

     The two college students agreed the instrument is not difficult for the class because most have a background in piano and organ.

     Dr. Chapman expressed confidence in the group's progress, saying, "it's amazing how they've improved in the matter of a few days.

     Instructors are Robert Lodine, carilloneur at St. Chrysostom's Episcopal Church in Chicago, and Mrs. Droppers, Alfred University Carillonneur.

     Mr. Lodine is also organist and choirmaster at the Chicago church, as well as professor of organ at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago.  He also has the distinction of playing on the world's largest carillon, as cariillonne of University of Chicago.  The musician noted he enjoys the Davis Carillon, because, since it is not enclosed, the player can see and hear the bells.

     The Davis Carillon is special because it contains the only ancient Flemish bells in the hemispherel--18 of them in fact, cast in 1674 by Peter Hemony.  Fifteen others were cast in the 1700's.  One only survived World War I because Luxembourg parishioners buried it.

     At present, the Davis Carillon contains 47 bells, with a range of four octaves.  This is considered large.  The largest bell weighs about 3,850 pounds, while the smallest weighs 19.

     Assistant instructor Joanne Droppers learned to play after the carillon had fallen into disuse after the death of Ray W. Wingate, university carillonneur from 1937-1968.  "The carillon was like a mountain--it was there," she observed.

     She added that Mr. Lodine also came from the "where there's a carillon, there's someone who can play it" school.  He was given a job as an organist in a church which also had a carillon.

     Even Dr. Wingate was "drafted" as college organist and music department head.  He found himself designated college carillonneur without ever having heard a carillon when the bells were first hung in 1937.  He studied for a summer, and played regular recitals for 30 years, often in his underwear during summer months.  (The clavier room becomes warm.)

     Mrs. Droppers noted there are about 175 carillons in North America (five in New York), and carillonneurs generally crop up in their environs.  There are large areas of the country where the carillon is unknown.

     She added that potential carillonneurs do not enroll in a course of standardized instruction as one would to learn flute or piano.  In most instances, new students are taught by the local carillonneur.

     "It is a rare privilege to gain access to a carillon and learn to play," observed Mr. Lodine.  Mrs. Droppers added that other unique features of the instrument are that no two are alike, due to size and number of bells, and that "as soon as you start playing, you play in public."  This is because the sound can carry for as far as a mile depending upon height of the tower, wind, and humidity.

     For this reason, carillon performances and rehearsals are scheduled for times when they are least likely to bother the neighbors.  However, at Alfred, where Mrs. Droppers gives regular concerts every day, students are more apt to complain if she misses a recital, Dr. Chapman said.  She also plays for special events such as birthdays of Alfred residents who are over 90.

     By definition, a carillon is 23 or more chromatically tuned cast bells," rigidly mounted to a frame work with clappers striking the bells when a simple system of levers and transmission bars is activated by the player.  The levers are grouped together, with interconnected foot pedals to form the clavier.

     The player sits at the clavier and strikes the lever with the hands, hard for loud and easy for soft tones.  This gives the player control of musical expression.

     Carillonneurs wear gloves or pads on their little fingers to hit the levers.  Depending on the size and number of bells, playing a carillon can be physically demanding.

     Before going into the tower, carillonneurs practice on a console set-up in a classroom.  Although the practice console sounds like jingle bells, it gives the players an idea of what to do on the real thing.  Players learn to move their hands and feet quickly, while at the same time, they must strike the levers with sensitivity.  If an ornate harmony is used, the melody can be stamped out with the feet.

     What sort of music is played?

     While some music is written for the carillon, most is adapted from compositions for other instruments, including , organ, piano, harpsichord, guitar and violin.  Common pieces are arrangements of hymns and folksongs but classical selections and popular tunes are also played.

     "You play music on a carillon, not carillon music," Dr. Chapman stressed.  "You don't contrive something to play on the bells.  The better performers don't compromise on musical quality.

Tower of Music

(Reprinted from "New York Alive"  March/April 1989; Clipping submitted by Jane Pinney, 2005)

     The melodious pealing of bells fills the valley and hillsides of Alfred during recitals played on the Davis Memorial Carillon.  Interested listeners are drawn to the glass-enclosed steel tower housing the bells.  Its location on the upper level of the Alfred University campus provides a quiet place free from the competition of street noise.

     New York State's only free-standing carillon was designed to be acessible.  Visitors who climb the steep stairway to view the bells and the carillonneur at work may stand on the observation deck below the three largest bells or continue on to the cabin housing the organ-like console, which is situated beneath the remaining 44 bells.  Around the cabin is a catwalk affording a panoramic view of the Southern Tier's spectacular landscape as well as a glimpse of the mechanisms that cause the clappers to strike the bells above.

     A carillon is amusical instrument consisting of precisely tuned stationary bells with a range of at least two chromatic octaves.  The console is similar to an organ, complete with pedals.  However, the carillonneur strikes batons instead of keys with closed fists instead of fingertips.

     Carillons originated in the 14th century, about the same time as clocks, says Joanne Droppers, Alfred University carillonneur.  The earliest instruments were timekeepers, playing simple melodies to alert townspeople to the tolling of the hour.

     The United States boasted no carillons before the 19th century.  Most American carillons were built in the 20th century, using contemporary bells.  Hanging in the Davis Memorial Carillon, however, are 33 ancient bells, 18 of which were cast by Pieter Hemony of Amsterdam in 1674. 


The Davis Memorial Carillon was donated by Alfred University's alumni in honor of Dr. Boothe Colwell Davis, president of Alfred University from 1895 to 1933, and his wife.

The original wooden frame tower was erected in 1937 by oil derrick architects from nearby oil fields.  It was replaced by a steel structure in 1953 when the purchase of additional heavier bells demanded a stronger structure.  By 1983 the steel tower was enclosed in glass, which, Droppers says, is appropriate for a university reknowned for its teaching and research in glass science.  The impressive neon lighting that outlines the carillon after dark was designed by Fred J. Tschida, associate professor of glass in the School of Art and Design, NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University.

     During the renovation of the tower, the carillonneur was without access to the console.  Since the bells were so important to Alfred University's alumni, homecoming weekend in October 1982 necessitated makeshift arrangements: Droppers climbed to the console via the ladder on the hook and ladder truck belonging to the town's volunteer fire company.

     Recitals are scheduled for 2 to 2:45 p.m. Sundays, throughout the year; 7 to 7:30 p.m. Fridays, April through October; 4:30 to 5 p.m. Fridays, November through March.  The carillon is closed during August.  The tower is open to the public during recitals.  Guest carillonneurs perform 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays in July.