Although most University students have never met campanology Prof. Margo Halsted, nearly all are quite familiar with her work.
Halsted plays an instrument called the carillon that allows her to produce music using a bell weighing 12 tons inside the Burton Memorial Tower on Central Campus. The largest of the 55 bells in the tower is the third heaviest in the world and large enough to fit a kindergarten class inside.
“I have the best job at the University. It”s so fun to have people come up to play and watch it,” Halsted said. “The carillon is very versatile. You can place the melody anywhere you want. It”s fun to play because you use your whole body.”
Through the University, Halsted offers the only carillon graduate program in the country. Only one student, Jeremy Chesman, has earned a master”s degree in the program under the direction of Halsted, and there are currently no graduate students in the program.
Chesman is now studying the carillon in Belgium on a grant from the Belgian American Educational Foundation. Although there are no students in the carillon program at present, students have opted to take a class on the instrument as an elective.
Halsted gives private lessons to 12 students at the University and not all are music majors.
“Students are auditioned on the piano and practice on the practice keyboard,” Halsted said. “When they get good enough they can play in the tower.”
Only 500 carillons exist in the world, and the University harbors two of them one in Burton Memorial Tower on Central Campus and another in the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Tower on North Campus. Played from a keyboard, the carillon consists of at least two octaves of carillon bells and requires simultaneous use of the musician”s hands and feet.
“I feel like there is so much possibility for expression with the carillon,” said Ray McLellan, a former student of Halsted and current carillonneur at Michigan State University. “Everyone is your audience. If you”re loud the whole city can hear it.”
Eric Klein, a percussion sophomore, heard the instrument for the first time on the second day of his freshman year as he left the MLB after Italian class.
“It was the first time I had ever heard a carillon being played,” Klein said. “I fell in love with the instrument. I decided that my goal would be to play the carillon.”
Klein began taking lessons from Halsted the next semester and three weeks later had his debut in the Lurie Tower.
“Playing the largest instrument in the world is so exciting,” Klein said.
There are also six people who play the University”s carillons regularly who are not enrolled in classes. Many are former students living in and around Ann Arbor.
“It”s the original heavy-metal music,” joked Julia Walton, who studied the carillon at the University in the 1950s.
Both towers on campus are open at noon every weekday for the public to observe the carillon being played. Additionally, the Lurie Tower is open for observation between 1:15 and 2 p.m. on Sundays and Burton Tower is open between 10:15 and 10:45 a.m. on Saturdays.