The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Carillon is played live Monday to Friday, 12 noon and 5 pm throughout the academic year. Tower tours take place Tuesdays through Fridays half an hour before each recital, at 11:30 am and 4:30 pm. We also lead tours after Sunday services when members of the carillon studio are playing the bells (check the front page of our website for updated info). Sunday tours leave at 12:15 pm. Please note that there are breaks in the academic year for two weeks in the second half of December, for one week in late March, for one week in mid-June, and for three weeks in September: check our visiting page if you’re planning to come on a tour, and note that the tour leaves half an hour before the recital begins.
During the summer, we present a special series of Sunday evening concerts, The Bells of Summer, seven Sundays at 5 pm, this year starting on Sunday June 26. These concerts last for an hour, and you’re invited to bring a lawnchair or blanket and a picnic. Children and nicely behaved animals are welcome.
The carillon is also played for special occasions, such as convocations, concerts, theatre events, and weddings.
Unless there is another event going on inside the Chapel, all recitals are broadcast live into the Chapel, with both audio and video feed, meaning that you can watch from the relative comfort of a pew if you’re not able to climb to the cabin.
Climbing the tower
Those wishing to climb the 271 steps to the top of the tower are invited to meet the carillonneur half an hour before the recital time Tuesday through Friday (11:30 am or 4:30 pm). Check the visiting page to make sure we are not on academic break. The views from the top are spectacular, and the experience of seeing and hearing the bells played from high in the tower is unforgettable. A donation of $5 is requested from visitors (free to those with University of Chicago ID).
Groups of up to 20 people may arrange in advance for a special tour (contact Emily Charles), and University departments may also request extra tours. Children who are old enough to climb 271 steps are welcome; for groups of children, there must be at least one accompanying adult for every three children.
All visitors to the tower must be accompanied by a carillonneur or Chapel events crew member. There are no self-guided tours.
The climb to the top
The climb up the spiral stone staircase is taken at a leisurely pace and is not recommended for those who are claustrophobic. Along the way you’ll walk above the Chapel’s false ceiling (the attic, via a catwalk), through the mechanical room housing the original carillon regulator clock as well as the pneumatically-driven mechanism of the quarter and hour chimes, past the largest bell (36,926 lbs at 117 inches in diameter) and its 13 friends, and thence into the playing cabin, 240 steps up, where the carillonneur plays the mighty instrument. Beyond the cabin, another short winding staircase leads the way to the top of the tower and magnificent 360 degree views of Chicago, Lake Michigan, northern Indiana and the port, the Michigan shoreline, and of course the University itself. It’s worth doing at every season of the year!