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Thursday, June 1, 2017 03:45 pm

International Carillon Festival begins Sunday

Carlo van Ulft playing the carillon.


The carillon in Washington Park is not only a familiar icon to Springfield residents, it is also known internationally as one of the world’s largest and best carillons. From June 4 to 9, renowned carillonists from The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Michigan and Texas will be in Springfield for the 56th annual International Carillon Festival. Begun in 1962, this festival is one of the most prestigious carillon events worldwide. Preceding the festival on June 2 and 3, the first Rees International Carillon Competition will be held. This is the first “open” carillon competition ever held in the U.S. Five finalists from Europe and the U.S. will play from 6 to 9 p.m. on June 2 and 3. An international seven-person jury will award a $3,000 first-place prize.

Music will fill the air every evening during the June 4-9 festival except Wednesday. Visitors are encouraged to bring a blanket or lawn chairs. A large video at the base of the carillon will allow the audience to see the carillonist playing the keyboard. In addition to carillon concerts at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., there will be performances by the Springfield Muni Opera cast from Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” (6 p.m. Sunday), the Lanphier High School Jazz Band (6 p.m. Monday), Trinity Wind Ensemble (6 p.m. Thursday) and Springfield Municipal Band (6 p.m. Friday). Carlo van Ulft, carillonist for the Springfield Park District, will play on opening night, Sunday, June 4, at 7:30 p.m. He will also give the concluding concert on Friday and continue to play during the fireworks at 9 p.m.

Carlo van Ulft is a native of The Netherlands. He became the Springfield Park District’s carillonist in July 2015. Prior to coming to Springfield, he was the carillonist in Centralia. Before moving to the U.S., he was on the faculty of the Royal Carillon School in Mechelen, Belgium for 13 years and served as the municipal carillonist in four cities in The Netherlands. He has played at all major carillon festivals in North America and Europe.

Carillons have a history dating back five centuries. The carillon evolved in Holland, Belgium and northern France and became a status symbol for a town. There are now 180 carillons in North America and another 450 around the world. A minimum of 23 bells is required for a bell tower to be considered a carillon. With 67 cast bronze bells weighing a total of 82,753 pounds, the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon is one of the largest. The largest bell weighs 7 ½ tons, and the smallest weighs 22 pounds. But, it is the magnificent setting within Washington Park and the quality of the bells, cast by a 300-year-old bell foundry in The Netherlands, which makes Springfield’s carillon unique.

Springfield has Thomas Rees to thank for our carillon. Senator Thomas Rees was publisher of Springfield’s Illinois State Register from 1881 to 1933. He left a $200,000 bequest to build the carillon and gave very specific instructions in his will regarding the number of bells and the location of the carillon. The carillon was dedicated in 1962.

A carillonist, also called a carilloneur, plays the carillon using a special keyboard. At the Thomas Rees Carillon, this is located on the eighth floor of the 132-foot tower. When the carillon is not being played manually, anyone in proximity to Washington Park will hear the familiar sound of chimes on the quarter hour. The chime, which increases in length each quarter hour, is called the Westminster Chime. At the top of the hour, it is followed by the bell strikes marking the hour of the day. This is a five-century-old bell tradition.

In conjunction with the festival, the North American Carillon School is offering workshops, lectures, and master classes. More information is available at http://www.carillonschoolusa.org/summerworkshop2017.html. There are many opportunities to experience Springfield’s carillon beyond the festival. To learn more about this unique instrument, visitors can take a tour of the carillon, see the bells up close and also enjoy a spectacular view of Washington Park and Springfield from the observation deck. Tours are offered May 1-Sept. 30 on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays noon-6 p.m., except no tours are given during the festival. Also May 1-Sept. 30, Carlos Van Ulft presents concerts on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Karen Ackerman Witter retired from a 35-year career in state government and is a part-time consultant and freelance writer. She has lived near Washington Park for many years and enjoys hearing the carillon. Last year her daughter was married in the Rose Garden, and the joyful celebration concluded with Carlo van Ulft playing the carillon.

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