Does the name Joey Brink ring a bell? While an undergraduate student majoring in mechanical engineering, Brink was not only a star carillonneur on campus, his senior project focused on modernizing the centuries-old art of bell-ringing.
Today, he ranks among the top carillonneurs in the world (in 2014, he won the International Queen Fabiola Carillon Competition, considered the most prestigious honor in the field). And he continues to apply his engineering skills to the craft, expanding what carillon music can be and who can play it.
On Thursday [December 6], University of Chicago carillonneur Joey Brink and other student musicians will climb 271 steps in the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel to perform the annual Sleigh Bells concert — offering the public a chance to hear the second largest instrument in the world.
“A lot of people associate bells with Christmas time and the holiday season,” Brink said. “It’s natural to play holiday music on the carillon.”
On Friday evening and Saturday, Rockefeller presents an even more ambitious event: the Rockefeller Carillon New Music Festival features pieces written exclusively in the 21st century, the overwhelming majority within the past five years. Many were commissioned for the fest.
The Rockefeller Chapel will be hosting the Carillon New Music Festival this Friday afternoon/evening and all day Saturday. This festival features the world premieres of 16 works, including several commissioned by the Rockefeller Chapel, which is on the campus of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park.
Brink, 29, brings a youthful edge to an instrument with medieval origins. Since his arrival at the University in 2015, the campus soundscape has included Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and Prince’s “Purple Rain,” alongside more traditional selections. Brink, a past winner of the prestigious International Queen Fabiola Carillon Competition, also offers private lessons to 20 graduate and undergraduate students at the University each year and composes and commissions new works for carillon.
The University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel presents sixteen world premières of music for carillon in a festival of new music for carillon, the first such festival in Chicago''s history, Friday May 25 and Saturday May 26, 2018. Under the direction of University Carillonneur Joey Brink, himself a noted new composer for his instrument, six works commissioned by Rockefeller Chapel will receive their world première performances, along with four works written by members of the University of Chicago Music Department. Brink has added a new work of his own to the festival, as has one of his undergraduate carillon students, and four pieces have been commissioned by his fellow lead performers at the event.
The carillon is one of the most public of instruments. Situated in bell towers in the heart of public spaces, carillonneurs perform for entire communities. Though all who wander near the tower will hear the music, most will never know who it is playing the instrument. As performers hidden from view, carillonneurs strive to convince audiences that we are not machines playing the same tunes each day; we are real humans capable of expression and dynamic variation with lots of diverse repertoire.
Composers and arrangers for the carillon like to “think upside down”; rather than give the singing melody line to the soprano, placing the melody in the bass bells, with the higher bells playing harmonic and rhythmic accompaniments, can be very effective.
At the 2017 Hyde Park Jazz Festival, Joey Brink climbed the 271 stairs leading up to the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel’s tower, sat down in front of a 100-ton instrument called the carillon, and opened his “Bell Jazz” performance with this Antonio Carlos Jobim composition.
Rockefeller Chapel has been anointed, and not in the typical sense: There were no denominational ceremonies, no baptisms. No priest was present. Instead, what descended over the chapel was of a different profundity. On Saturday night, the music of two ethereal voices filled the depths of the space, echoes reverberating through its cavernous hall. The source of it all: the Canadian identical twin duo known as Tegan and Sara.