From The Diapason: Alex Johnson is appointed the seventh university carillonist for Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. He leaves a position at the University of Texas, Austin, where he has taught carillon students, and the University of Rochester Carillon Society of advanced carillon students. He has also served as a mathematics teacher at the Eastside Early College High School, Austin. He succeeds Joey Brink, a member of The Diapason’s 20 under 30 Class of 2015, who has been appointed university carillonist for the University of Denver Lamont School of Music, Denver, Colorado (see the June 2022 issue, page 3).
The University of Chicago will host the a series of free public concerts June 15-19 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, celebrating the 90th anniversary of the campus instrument and convening musicians and scholars from across the continent.
The events are held as part of the 79th Congress of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. Founded in 1936, GCNA convenes annually at carillons to put on concerts of music both old and new, present research and historical studies, and conduct business among its members. This is the third congress hosted by the University of Chicago, after 1953 and 1977.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the University’s Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon, which was installed in the summer of 1932 and consists of 72 bronze bells combining to weigh over 100 tons. The opening concert on June 15 will include music composed for the anniversary, which are among the nine pieces that will receive their world premiere performance this week. More than 50 performers will play throughout the five days. Read more:
Two members of the University of Chicago Guild of Carillonneurs at Rockefeller Chapel, fourth-year Maria Krunic and third-year Joseph Min, passed their professional certification exams this month with the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America (GCNA). After preparing for the exam for the better part of a year, Maria and Joseph submitted recordings of their carillon playing as anonymous entrants to a jury of carillonneurs across the content. They are only two of five entrants this year to have passed the exam, and will be featured in this month's virtual GCNA congress at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.
Wishing a beautiful Easter, Passover, and Spring weekend to all. The bulletin for our annual Easter service - this year an entry in the Sundays from Rockefeller podcast, available on all platforms - can be located here for viewing or download.
Like so many in our community and around the world, we are angered and horrified by the acts of violence visited on our Asian friends across the country, particularly in the past year. As citizens of the University of Chicago, while we are committed to the free exchange of ideas, we are equally resolute in our opposition to any speech that denigrates entire peoples. Words matter. People matter more.
We are particularly sensitive to the fact that Asian communities on our campus have endured more than their share of grief this past year. We see you. We support you. Our hearts are open.
This is a challenging time for all of us as we do our best to work together for healing and wholeness while enduring the burden of isolation brought about by the necessity of remaining physically distant yet emotionally and spiritually connected. Please feel free to reach out to us at any time and let us know how we can lighten the burdens of the present moment.
We believe that brighter days lie ahead. If we pull together, we can pass through this difficult time and make the world better and brighter for all.
As dean of Rockefeller Chapel, the Reverend Maurice Charles sees himself as a spiritual leader first and foremost. When people are hurting, celebrating, or asking questions about life, Charles is the first person they call. But he’s also used the position to raise questions about race and the role of policing at UChicago—questions which, as a Black man, he’s grappled with for his entire life.
Charles grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, in a family that was heavily involved in the church. His mother’s family had migrated to Cleveland during the first Great Migration and, according to Charles, left their past behind.
“I come from a family that came from the Jim Crow South. And they never talked about Jim Crow. They never talked about the fact that my mother’s side of the family left Georgia right around the time of an election that Governor Clifford Walker was elected,” Charles said.
The election of Walker, a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan, drove the family’s decision to leave. His family’s history and his own childhood in the 1960s shaped how he dealt with adversity early on, whether that was adjusting to a college environment as an undergrad or racial prejudice throughout his life.
“[My family’s] attitude was that you just stay focused. If you’re not welcome here, you find a better place, and you keep moving forward and you don't look back. And so that’s how I dealt with the situation as a student,” Charles said.
Published in the Chicago Maroon, February 10, 2021. Read the full article here.
What was it like returning the Rockefeller Chapel and the carillon?
Joey Brink: Returning to the instrument on June 15  was a breath of fresh air. For me, it was empowering, uplifting and deeply gratifying. I began playing on June 15, Monday through Friday, every day from noon to 1 p.m. Normally I would have had several students, and many guest performers playing throughout the summer as well, but in these next three months, I was the only individual allowed back in the tower, as the policy for returning students to the instrument was still being worked out. As a result, I felt even more like Quasimodo, being the only one in the tower, and often the only one in the chapel. I actually really enjoyed it! I guess that’s not surprising.
We received many comments from the campus community in those first weeks expressing gratitude for the return of the bells. The carillon is unique in many ways—one being that it is the perfect social-distance instrument. I never interact with the audience, or even know who is listening. With very little live music in the city, I felt that I was able to contribute something even more powerful to the community.
Excerpts from the Chicago Tribune piece (11/24 digital, 11/29 print) by Howard Reich
...Most of these performances have been canceled, with a few migrating online for truncated, prerecorded, scaled-down versions of Handel’s most famous oratorio.
Which raises two uncomfortable and inseparable questions: What are we missing? And how do we get by without “Messiah”?
“We’re missing the sense of community for the performers as much as the audience,” says tenor Matthew Dean, director of University of Chicago chapels and a soloist in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel’s annual “Messiah” (and others).
The University of Chicago’s “Messiah” has been presented annually since 1930 – until now.
“We’re missing the physical experience of feeling the sound in your body as an audience member,” adds Dean. “There is nothing like the acoustics of Rockefeller Chapel … the echoes bouncing off the space and kind of going through you.
“It sympathetically vibrates you in a way that reminds you of the season and of your connection with fellow listeners.”
...Or, as James Kallembach, director of chapel music at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, sees it, the eventual return of “Messiah” will represent perseverance in the face of catastrophe.
“I sent out a big email (to the choir) at the beginning of the year saying: Every time we sing, singing is a form of resistance,” says Kallembach, who conducts Rockefeller’s “Messiah” every year, drawing roughly 900 listeners. “And the resistance is that we can’t let the arts die.
“What I also told the choir is that if we get out of covid in this school year, the first thing I will perform is the ‘Messiah,’ because I feel it’s like what everyone needs. It’s the catalyst.
“Here’s this little folio in the (British) Library in London, maybe it’s a pound of parchment,” adds Kallembach.
“Think of all the energy that pound of parchment has created over all these hundreds of years. So many performances, so much good will.
“We need it for our communities, and we need it to be human beings.”
Beginning October 4, 2020, Dean Maurice Charles and the musicians of Rockefeller Chapel offer music and meditations through the Virtual Chapel. Please visit our SoundCloud page for access to these offerings, recorded onsite in this distanced autumn, that we all might celebrate together again in a healthy future.
Scroll within this news archive for previous greetings and updates from the Dean.