If you’re in town for the holidays, Rockefeller has a place for you to celebrate, unwind, and enjoy the songs of the season after a hectic year. The annual Lessons & Carols service draws almost 1800 people from the campus and community to a candlelit service featuring carols old and new.
2019 marks the 54th Bells of Summer, a weekly concert series played on Rockefeller Chapel’s carillon. Running from June 23 to August 25, the series features carillonneurs from around the world, each with their own style.
“Here, we’re all about variety,” said University Carillonneur Joey Brink. This year’s program reflects that, as it showcases new, local, and international players. Carillonneurs who play at the Bells of Summer go on to play the carillon at the Chicago Botanic Garden and in Naperville, Illinois, completing what Brink called “the Chicago circuit for carillon players.”
If you've ever set foot in Rockefeller, which sits at 59th and Woodlawn, this etymology makes perfect sense: the chapel has an awe-inspiring capacity to amplify the human voice. But in recent years, Rockefeller has ventured well beyond a capella, with acts ranging from ars antiqua to the avant-garde.
The bell tower of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel is normally populated by tourists and the University’s carillonneur. But scientists recently scaled its 271 stone steps to the highest point on campus in order to study air quality and pollution across Chicago.
At Rockefeller, researchers from UChicago and Harvard University ran a long tube down the stone tower to a humming machine, which analyzed air for methane as it blew past the tower. Across campus, another instrument atop the Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery allowed UChicago scientists to test isotopes in water vapor.
The Rev. Dr. Maurice Charles has been named dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago, effective July 1, 2019. Charles has deep ties to UChicago, having earned his MDiv and PhD from the Divinity School. He was most recently the dean for spiritual engagement and chaplain at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, having previously served as associate dean for religious life at Stanford University.
If you’re going to play the carillon, you need to think about your shoes. The 100-ton, 72-bell instrument at the top of Rockefeller Chapel has 31 foot pedals and 71 batons, which you strike with your fists. The batons operate the smaller bells, the pedals the larger ones.
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.