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Rochester's Carillon

Music that soothes the soul - the sound of 56 bells.

You can't beat downtown Rochester. Unique shops, great food, inviting plazas to sit in and relax. But best of all is the music of the bells-the carillon.

Where else might you hear the soothing sounds of bells ring out strains of "Danny Boy" or Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" as you rest your tired feet? The people of Rochester are often treated to 30 minutes of exquisite music as a carillon fills the air with the sound of bells. The 56-bell carillon has been an important part of Rochester culture since 1927. Donated by brothers and physicians William and Charles Mayo, it is situated at the top of the tower on the Plummer Building and rings out in concert three times a week or by arrangement.

Carillonneur Jeffrey Daehn is thoughtful in choosing music for each program. "I try not to be too predictable," he says. "I might play a classic followed by "Puff the Magic Dragon." It is important to Daehn to fit the music to the occasion. On Monday nights, he plays more reflective concert music. During the day, he adds show tunes and folk songs. The first song in each concert has been a tradition since the bells were installed. "I always start my rings with 'My Country Tis of Thee,'" Daehn says, "because the Mayo Brothers dedicated the carillon to the American soldier."



When he plays, Daehn sits high in the small room containing the carillon keyboard control, so he can't see the people below. "I never know if anyone is listening," he says. But, often, he hears compliments from people in the shops or on the streets. Sometimes they climb up the tower to thank him. Visitors are welcome to come up to see the carillon and listen to him play, as he leaves the door open during every concert. He prefers to be contacted before, if possible, so he can choose music to please them, but he enjoys drop-ins as well.

The concerts take place throughout the year. "I play in all kinds of weather," Daehn says, recalling one day when it was snowing hard. He was tempted not to chance the drive into town. Duty called, however, and he headed into the storm. As he played, the snow swirled and he was sure he was playing to empty streets. At the end of the concert, he says, "I was surprised to see three guys at the door. They said they'd been walking around outside and enjoyed the bells, so they came up to see them." They were Alaskans.


The Rochester bells are brass, cast by the Gillette and Johnston Bell Foundry in Croydon. The carillon's total weight is 36,988 pounds; the bass bell, the largest, weighs 7,840 pounds.
The bells are stationary. Only the clappers move. They are connected by wires to a keyboard and foot pedals, so when the carrilloneur strikes the keyboard, the clapper strikes the bell. The musician must strike the keyboard with his closed hand to make the bell sound, and use both hands and both feet on different keys at the same time. "Each single bell is rich in harmonies," says Daehn.
And 56 bells together make music to soothe the soul. There's no better way to enjoy Rochester than to listen to a concert of the bells.