Summer Sounds: A Brief History of Middlebury’s Carillon

About Our Carillon

A carillon is set up like a keyboard, with black and white keys and foot pedals that can help produce different kinds of sound. Each key is connected by wire to a bell clapper so different bells are rung depending on which key is struck. It is a 75-step climb up to Middlebury’s bell tower, atop Middlebury Chapel. The Middlebury Carillon is considered a traditional carillon of 48 bells. The pitch of Middlebury’s heaviest bell is E in the middle octave. It is a 2,300-pound bell; roughly the same weight as the Liberty Bell. In 1915, the instrument was begun with eleven bells by the Meneely bellfoundry in Watervliet, New York. Nine bells remain from that work. In 1986, the instrument was enlarged to its present size with bells made by Paccard-Fonderie des Cloches in Annecy, France. The enhanced carillon was presented as a gift from then Chairman of the Board of Trustees Allen Dragone ‘50 (and his wife Jane) in 1986. 27 bells remain from that work. In 2001, 12 bells were recast or replaced in 2001 by Meeks & Watson of Georgetown, Ohio.

In 1918, the family of former governor John Mead gave Mead Chapel a chime of 11 bells made by the Meneely Company of West Troy, New York (a chime is defined as six to 22 bells. A carillon comprises 23 or more bells.) A note about the chapel name. The Meneely family of that time was the 8th or 9th generation descendants of Paul Revere (a bell cast by Paul Revere is in the tower of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Middlebury). In 1985, through the kindness of donor Alan Dragone, then President of the Board of Trustees of the College, the chime was expanded to a full carillon of 48 bells by the firm Paccard et Fils of Annecy le-Vieux of France. Middlebury’s carillon is one of 183 carillons in the United States (71 of them in colleges or universities) and about 750 in the world.

George Matthew, Jr., has been the College Carillonneur since 1985, and teaches Middlebury College students the art of this unique musical form.  He and his students have been playing the instrument at noon every day since the fall semester began as a way to connect the entire campus community, at President Patton’s request.  We will post the pieces performed in this daily musical offering here, and hope you enjoy learning more about this unusual musical tradition.

Summer Carillon Series

The Carillon Series treats audiences to free performances on Friday evenings at 6:00 P.M. from early July through mid-August, in and around Middlebury Chapel. Each year, musicians from around the world come to Middlebury to perform in the Chapel’s bell tower high above the College campus. All of the concerts are free and open to the public, and can be enjoyed inside Middlebury Chapel or on the surrounding lawns.  Information about the summer 2021 carillon series will be posted here as soon as it becomes available.

Charles P. Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life
46 South Street
Middlebury, VT 05753