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Thursday, June 8, 2017 12:06 am

Carillon Festival concludes Friday

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. The final two nights of the 56th annual International Carillon Festival are Thursday and Friday. Bring a blanket or lawn chair, and enjoy an evening of music. Beer and wine will be available to purchase. Begun in 1962, this festival is one of the most prestigious carillon events worldwide. Springfield’s carillonist, Carlo van Ulft, will give the concluding concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday and continue playing the bells during the fireworks finale at 9 p.m.

In addition to carillon concerts at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. both evenings, the Trinity Wind Ensemble will perform at 6 p.m. Thursday and the Springfield Municipal Band will play at 6 p.m. Friday. Frans Haagen from the Netherlands and Julianne Vanden Wyngaard from Michigan will play Thursday night. Roy Lee from Canada and Carlo van Ulft will play Friday. A large video screen at the base of the carillon will allow the audience to see the carillonist playing the keyboard.

Carlo van Ulft, a native of the Netherlands, 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.

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 specific instructions in his will regarding the number of bells and the location of the carillon. The carillon was dedicated in 1962. 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 7½ 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.

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.

A carillonist, also called a carillonneur, 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.

During the past week, music has filled the air in Washington Park, with renowned carillonists from the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, and several states playing this unique instrument. The first Rees International Carillon Competition took place June 2-3. This was the first “open” carillon competition ever held in the U.S. An international seven-person jury awarded first prize ($3,000) to Margaret Pan of Massachusetts; second prize ($1,500) to Rien Donkersloot, the Netherlands; third prize ($1,250) to Brian Tang of California; fourth prize ($1,000) to Bob van der Linde, the Netherlands; and fifth prize ($750) to Hunter Chase of Illinois.

Although the annual festival ends on Friday, there are many opportunities to experience Springfield’s carillon beyond the festival. To learn more about this amazing 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, Carlo 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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