The History of the Yale Memorial Carillon

By Catharine Bradford '03 on Jan 1, 2003

The Memorial Quadrangle and Donation of the Harkness Chimes

At the turn of the century, educators created a new vision of a modern university, one that excelled in research and had superior facilities. Universities began to imitate a corporate structure with departmentalization of the faculty, and alumni came to have an increasingly important role as donors. Most importantly, Yale was growing. In the early part of the century, the University purchased land to build scientific laboratories that would help break down the division between the Sheffield Scientific School and Yale College. All of the separate schools under the Yale Corporation began to come together as one University. The Medical School was growing in enrollment, and the Forestry School was an entirely new addition to Yale. In Yale College, more and more students had the means and desire to enter a university. Furthermore, admissions requirements changed from numerous rigorous exams to a single College Entrance Examination which would allow more students from the western states to attend Yale who had previously not had the opportunity. 

In March 1917, Anna M. Harkness offered a gift to Yale to erect dorms in the quadrangle bounded by High, Library, York, and Elm streets (now Branford and Saybrook colleges) in memory of her son Charles W. Harkness, Yale College class of 1883. Anna's husband, Stephen V. Harkness, had created the family fortune as a Cleveland banker who invested with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil. Their son, Charles W. Harkness was described by friends at Yale as a man who was "care-free, happy, irresponsible as the rest of us," but when his father died, he took up the family's large properties with responsibility "not only to business associates and those whose interests are in their hands, but to the community and to their own high ideals in matters of education, social and religious." In the winter of 1915 Charles contracted a severe cold which developed into a serious illness and he died at home in New York City on May 1, 1916. Survived by his mother, she made the generous donation to Yale, which was accepted by the Yale Corporation with her pledge to also provide for a new heating plant "in order to enable the College to proceed at once with this great project."

The corner stone was laid on Monday, October 8, 1917, exactly 200 years after the stone for the first Yale building was laid on the Old Campus. Work had already begun tearing down the older buildings that were present on the site, including Pierson Hall dormitory, the old heating plant, the Old Gymnasium, Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and the unfinished Peabody museum. After this progress was made, World War I struck. With such programs as the Yale Volunteer Coast Patrol, Yale Naval Training Unit, and ROTC already well organized, it became difficult for the university to keep students at college, and Yale lost a significant amount of income from their tuition bills. The destruction of Pierson Hall had already lost money in room rents, and the University had recently committed to an increase in faculty salaries at the Law School. Wartime inflation devalued Yale's bonds (almost one-half of their endowment) and faculty in all the schools now required a salary increase. Yale suddenly was faced with a financial crisis, and work on the Memorial Quadrangle stopped from April 1918 until late in 1919. The deficit also caused Yale to become increasingly dependent on alumni donations, and with this, increasingly susceptible to alumni concerns.

James Gamble Rogers, Yale College class of 1889, was chosen as the architect of the Memorial Quadrangle. He created the "Collegiate Gothic" style that the University would continue to use throughout the 1930s. As F.H. Bosworth, Yale College class of 1897 and Dean of the Cornell University School of Architecture said, "Its gothicism is subjective, not objective. Its architectural expression is not that of any period, not a dead type brought back to life but a modern living expression of to-day, full of the breath of collegiate life which exists now and has existed." Memorial Quadrangle would have a large tower with a set of 10 bells similar to what could be found at the great gothic universities of England such as Oxford. The bells were commissioned from the John Taylor Bellfoundry in Loughborough, England. They were cast in 1921 with a total weight of 28 tons, thought to be the heaviest set of 10 bells in existence. The largest bell, the bourdon, was 8 feet in diameter, weighing 13,440 pounds and bearing the inscription "In Memory of Charles W. Harkness, Class of 1883, Yale College." The set of bells came across the Atlantic on the ship Hombleton Grange to Boston. The railroad took them to New Haven, where they were paraded around the town. On June 9, 1922 the bells were first rung by the John Taylor, the bellfounder. At the University Commencement a few weeks later, University Organist Harry B. Jepson gave the first concert. At first the bells were so loud that they could be heard in a four mile radius. Local residents were afraid their windows would break. After a great deal of experimenting with different types of clappers, machine steel clappers were re-positioned from the center of the bell to within two and a half inches of the bell's rim. Mr. And Mrs. Edward S. Harkness '97 as well as the architect Rogers were present at the finally successful testing on July 9, 1922.
Harkness tower was the last part of the quadrangle to be completed with the installation of the clock and chimes. Some of the rooms in what is now Saybrook College were inhabited by students in the class of 1921 as early as the September 20, 1920. The rest of the dormitories were completed by June 18, 1921 and housed upperclassmen the following fall term. On December 9, 1922, Mr. Edward S. Harkness officially presented the key to the Memorial Quadrangle to Yale University on behalf of his mother. The Memorial Chimes played "York Tune" and "Integer Vitae" to symbolize Yale, "Adestes Fideles" to symbolize the church, and "America" to symbolize the state in accordance with Yale's motto "For God, for Country, and for Yale" which was inscribed on each of the bells.

Creation of the Guild of Yale Bellringers

For many years, the university's Curator of Organs, Steven H. Smith, was responsible for playing the chimes. He retired in 1946, and the job was taken over by a student, Elliot H. Kone '49. Kone had learned the art of change-ringing while he was stationed in England during World War II. Afterwards, Kone was one of many veterans who descended upon Yale under the G.I. Bill. A student in Branford College, Elliott was apparently fascinated by the 10 bells in Harkness tower. When he found that the bells had been silenced by Smith's retirement, he volunteered to play them. Kone was turned away several times and told that the University was going to hire a professional. As a final effort to make the bells ring again, he transcribed 100 hymn tunes for the 10 new bells and asked the University to give them to the new bellringer when he eventually arrived on campus. This persistence won him the job as the first student bellringer. The bells were rung four times per day - at rising time, noon, vespers, and curfew. During Smith's tenure, they had played specific selections as chosen by Mrs. Stephen V. Harkness. "Scarlero, Italian Tune" called students to chapel at 8:00 AM, the "Largo" from Dvorak's New World Symphony played at noontime, Wagner's "Bell Motif" from Parsifal played for the 6:00 PM vespers, and a Gregorian chant rang at 10:00 PM for curfew. Kone added arrangements of other songs and concerts on Sundays and other special occasions and holidays. He played Irish melodies on St. Patrick's Day, Jewish hymns for Friday evening services, and other schools' songs when they would come for football games at Yale. Playing the bells four times a day, seven days a week was a rigorous job, so Kone and A. Brooks Naffziger '50 founded a student group in September 1948 that would be responsible for ringing the chimes. They called themselves the Guild of Yale Bellringers.

For many years, most students probably did not know who rang the bells in Harkness Tower. They were not a notable student organization, and were never among the student groups featured in the yearly Senior Class Book until 1958. That year they were mentioned in a feature on "Music at Yale" as "more a part of the Yale man's existence than any other musical or quasi-musical sound. Day after day thousands of students wake, study, and go to class to this din." In the small section on the "Harkness Bell Ringers" in the book, they are described as "a group which few people know much about but which enters into the life of everyone on the Yale Campus." The Guild quickly became a self-perpetuating group without any musical or faculty advisor. Each spring they put up posters around campus and taught interested freshmen and sophomores how to play the bells in a process called the "Heel" (because the instrument was played using the heel of one's hand). From this group 2-3 students were selected to Guild membership, but these apprentices would continue to study under a more experienced member for around six months before they were allowed to play the chimes on their own. Membership requirements included simple proficiency in music theory, the ability to play an instrument, and the ability to read music. The Guild generally had between 6 and 9 members. Each member added to the Guild's repertoire by transcribing new pieces for their 10-bell chime, but the traditional pieces continued to start each ring and the noon ring would almost always begin with the "Changes" or pealing of bells.

Creating new student groups was a common feature of collegiate life in the late 1940s. After World War II, the Yale faculty implemented curricular changes in order to recapture the old educational ideals. The new distributional requirements aimed at producing educated men with sufficient breadth of knowledge. But this effort was matched on the students' part by a major growth in the extracurriculum and a diminished focus on studying. Colleges became targets of criticism as simply a route to a business career and social elevation. Student groups including fraternities and societies sprang up in large numbers across the Yale campus, and the majority of them were frowned upon by the administration and faculty members. Musical organizations, on the other hand, were "remarkably free from attack. Their contribution to Yale life [was] generally seen as a healthy and natural one, to be not only tolerated but also encouraged." This led to the start of a close relationship between the Guild of Yale Bellringers and the Yale administration.

The Guild's benefactor, Anna M. Harkness, had established an endowment fund in 1924 with a $25,000 principal to be invested by the University. The income from this gift was to cover the cost of ringing the bells, and it was administered by the President's Office for the purposes of the Guild. The Secretary's Office constantly received inquiries from the Guild's Chief Bellringer about finances and the playing of the bells. Each bellringer was paid a small fee for each time he played the chimes, as provided by the Anna Harkness Fund. In 1963 this amount was $0.50 per ring, while the Chief Bellringer earned $500 per year. In 1965 the bells in Battell Chapel were refurbished and the Guild gained the additional responsibility of winding the clock, with a corresponding increase in pay. Outside of their normal ringing, the Guild was like any other student organization, with a yearly celebration at Mory's when they tapped their new members and other social events such as dinners with guests like Melvin C. Corbett '14S, a prominent local carillonneur who was the President of the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America in 1958. Each year the Guild also awarded two trophies to outstanding Bellringers and honored their graduating members with small silver charms.

While they had a good relationship with the administration, their relationship with the student body was occasionally tenuous. Freshmen created an uproar after the Battell bells were restored because the nighttime ringing of the bells disrupted their sleep. Other students complained about the "cacophony that only a Harkness Bell Ringer would dare call music." In the Dramat's production of Stover at Yale, they were forever condemned as "those damned Yale chimes." Some of the bells were not properly tuned after the many years of experimentation with their clappers, and to make it all worse, the bellringer could not even hear what he was playing! The playing console was located several floors below the bells, inside the tower. Surrounded by walls that were a yard thick, the bellringer could only hear a muffled clang while the rest of the campus could hear the bells all too clearly, four times each day. With only ten bells, the musical selection was certainly limited. For example, without an F-natural bell in the scale, songs such as "Bright College Years" could not be performed at all.

Expansion of the Chimes to a Carillon

When Arthur Bigelow came up to Yale to do some maintenance work on the chimes in 1949-50, he talked with Elliott Kone about the possibility of eventually renovating and extending the chime to carillon status (more than 20 bells) to increase the instrument's versatility. Elliott H. Kone, the original founder of the Guild of Yale Bellringers, had stayed at Yale after his college graduation and had remained heavily involved in the Guild. After receiving his masters degree, he founded the Yale Audio-Visual Center located in Street Hall. In 1954 he met Mrs. Florence S. Marcy Crofut and formed a friendship of many years that fulfilled her dream of a carillon and endowed Yale with a beautiful new instrument. Miss Crofut was a Connecticut historian and author of Guide to the History and Historic Sites of Connecticut. Carillon music was one of her hobbies, and since the death of her mother she had wanted to give a carillon as a memorial. While Trinity College had a carillon in south Hartford, she hoped to endow a carillon closer to where she lived in the northern part of the city. In 1952 she offered to give a carillon to Hartford Seminary Foundation which "was bandled about, for two years." A letter she had written to Yale asking about the Hartford Seminary's bell and tower problems was forwarded to Elliott Kone who was studying and working in France at the time. When he returned, he made a trip up to Hartford on November 8, 1954 to inspect the Seminary tower. They refused to remove a certain blower, and under his advice she withdrew her offer and instead asked Elliott if he thought Yale would like additional bells for a carillon. In February 1955, she wrote a letter to President Griswold offering to establish the Crofut Memorial Fund to provide a carillon in Harkness Tower with the installation of 44 more bells. When Yale responded that they were willing to accept the gift, and a structural engineer had been employed to ensure that the tower could withstand the weight, 44 new bells were ordered from the same Bellfoundry in Loughborough, England that had made the first ten. Kone was placed in charge of the carillon renovation and Miss Crofut gave over $65,000 to cover the costs of the additional bells, clavier, practice clavier, and installation.

Taylor and Company soon began casting the bells. The largest new bell, a G-sharp, was inscribed with the words "Given in memory of Sidney W. and Lucy E. Marcy Crofut by their daughter, Florence S. Marcy Crofut." The project was well underway when Paul Taylor visited New Haven in February 1966 and happily discovered that the tones of the old bells had stayed accurate to the pitches that had been cast in 1921. All that remained was to test the new bells. In April in Loughborough, the 44 new bells were assembled on the steel framework that would be installed in the tower. Yale asked Elliott Kone to make the trip to England as the University's representative to the testing of the bells, and he complied. After the successful test, the bells were dismantled and shipped to the United States, and installation began in early July. The installation of the bells into Harkness Memorial Tower was a major undertaking which had to be done during the summer months when school was out of session. High Street had to be entirely blocked off to allow for a large crane. Parts of the large window of the bellchamber were removed on one side and seven of the original ten bells were lowered to the ground. Strong steel girders were put into place to support the new total weight of 86,621 pounds, and the entire set of carillon bells was lifted into the tower. Finally, the playing cabin was built, and the new clavier was attached to the bells.

On October 2, 1966, the Yale Memorial Carillon was dedicated during a ceremony in the Branford College Courtyard. The four and one half octave carillon was the largest fully chromatic carillon in the United States, and at the dedication, Miss Crofut said, "the best is none too good for the oldest college in Connecticut, whose object has always been not only to serve as a challenge to higher education in this state but, through its large body of alumni, in almost every corner of the world." Miss Crofut's generosity did not end with the donation of the new bells and claviers. In her will she generously bequeathed $25,000 as an addition to the Crofut Memorial Carillon Fund which would support the upkeep and maintenance of the carillon, eventual replacement parts, and the purchase of carillon music for the Guild. These funds were administered by the Carillon Committee which consisted of Elliott H. Kone, the Secretary of the University, the Treasurer of the University, the Facilities Manager, the Dean of Branford College, the Master of Branford College, and representatives of the Guild of Carillonneurs.

For their part, the Guild began preparing for the new instrument as early as 1964. Before the actual bells arrived in the United States, Taylor sent the brand new practice clavier on which the students could begin practicing. Secretary Holden granted them a budget increase from the Anna Harkness Fund so that a small group of students could travel to New York City for lessons on the carillon at Riverside Church. One student continued with lessons over the summer vacation and the Guild began purchasing carillon music for their library. They also began taking trips to hear carillon recitals in other places and invited Ronald Barnes, a famous carillonneur from Florida, to come to Yale and talk about the new instrument. Guild members hoped that coordinating this with the freshman "Heel" would increase their interest in joining the Guild. This started a tradition of inviting professional carillonneurs for master classes which continues to this day. When the carillon was completed, Guild members were prepared to play it. Chief Carillonneur Bruce H. Eberle, and the former Chairman of the Guild of Yale Bellringers William D. Farnam played in the dedication concert with Charles T. Chapman, the carillonneur of the Singing Tower in Luray, Virginia. Each Sunday afternoon thereafter, the Guild played a half hour concert of carillon music which always ended with a duet arrangement of "Bright College Years."

The Yale University Guild of Carillonneurs

With the addition of the 44 new bells and the improvement of the original chimes to carillon status, the Guild of Yale Bellringers necessarily changed its name to the Yale University Guild of Carillonneurs. Their ringing times changed as well. Initially, the bells were to be rung at noon, 5:30 PM, and 10:00 PM with an additional Sunday morning ring at 10:50 AM. Very shortly afterward, though, the schedule changed to 10 minute rings only at noon and 5:30 PM each day with a half hour concert at 3:00 on Sunday afternoons. Having two rings a day became the norm, although the times of the rings fluctuated slightly. In 1971, carillonneurs played at 1:00 PM instead of noon. Additional concerts by the Guild and recitals by guest carillonneurs were also scheduled. Some of the Guild's special concerts included a Halloween concert, the "Bladderball Day Raunch Ring," and concerts corresponding with Holy Week and Easter. Furthermore, the Guild rang for special University events including Commencement Exercises and Alumni and Parents' Weekends.

In the summer of 1967, the Guild decided that they wanted to hold a series of summer concerts on Thursday evenings in addition to the Sunday afternoon concerts. They developed a plan to publicize the concerts with posters that they could then sell as souvenirs, but this income would still not be enough to cover the costs of printing and paying professional carillonneurs to play at Yale. Yale asked the city of New Haven if they could help support the program, hoping that the concerts would become "a feature of the Yale-New Haven cultural scene." A joint grant from the City of New Haven and some benefactors in the Class of 1896 made the first summer concert series possible, which began on June 15th, 1967 and ran until Labor Day. Some of these concerts were played by musicians in the Guild, while others were played by distinguished carillonneurs such as Jacques Lannoy, the carillonneur of Douai, Dunkirck, and Tourcoing in France. When Miss Crofut learned of the successful organization of the first summer series and the overwhelming support of the New Haven community, she sent money to cover the entire cost of the first summer. As this had already been paid for, the Guild made this money the "nucleus of a summer schedule fund" which kept the concerts going for many years afterward. The summer concert series continues to be organized and managed by a Guild member each year and involves carillonneurs from all over the United States and the World.

The summer series was only one small part of the Guild's interactions with the larger world carillon community. In the summer of 1969, the Yale Guild extended an invitation to play the Crofut Memorial Carillon to the entire professional carillon community, playing host to the annual Congress of the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America (GCNA). This four-day event involved talks and free public recitals on the carillon, including student advancement recitals for membership in the GCNA, a talk on "Carillon Maintenance", and a controversial discussion on "The Role of Student Carillonneur Organizations." This last discussion led to a polarization between the Yale Guild, who believed they were capable of running the affairs of the carillon at Yale without supervision by a professional, and professional carillonneurs who saw a need for guidance. In all, the Congress was a huge success and the first opportunity that many carillonneurs had to play the recently renovated Yale carillon.

Another way in which the Yale Guild attempted to reach the professional world and learn more about the carillon was through annual tours. In 1968-69, the Guild had an exchange with the Wellesley carillonneuses. After this successful experience, the Guild increased the number of visits to other carillons "similar to the tours made by other Yale musical organizations." In the spring of 1972 they made their first European tour of France and Belgium. Other years they gave concerts at carillons on the East Coast or Midwest. As the Guild expanded their circle of carillon contacts, they also expanded in numbers. In 1970 they doubled in size "with the admission of 12 new members including five coeds." From then on, the Guild generally was comprised of 18-25 members in contrast to the norm of less than 10 members in the days before the expansion of the carillon. Women were easily accepted into the Guild when Yale began admitting them as undergraduates, assuming an equal or greater number of places in the Guild in only a few years and taking on leadership roles within the Guild immediately. Outside of playing the carillon, the Guild met weekly for Monday dinners in Branford college and enjoyed social events such as their "bizarre initiation rite in January" for the newly admitted members.

Many things changed about the Guild after the Harkness chimes were expanded to 54 bells, but a great deal also remained the same. The Guild continued to admit freshmen members based on the Heel process, although the length of the Heel varied from time to time. Furthermore, they maintained the same close relationship with the Yale administration because their funding was acquired through the offices of the Dean of Yale College and the President of the University. Most importantly, their system of training each other on the instrument, whether it be a set of chimes or a carillon, was wholly singular. In one of William D. Farnam's letters during the transition to the new instrument, he wrote, "We have a unique system in this country of training college students to play the carillon, and we have a great deal of fun doing it." No other student group in the country had "complete responsibility for the playing of one of North America's major carillons."

The addition of 44 more bells did not change some of the campus animosity toward them, either. Bruce Eberle '66, said to a reporter during the GCNA Congress at Yale that "the master of Johnathan Edwards College next door really hates me. He called me the most despicable man he ever knew." As far as mastery of the instrument goes, Eberle, who graduated from the Music School in '69 with a masters degree in piano performance, passed his GCNA exam at the 1969 Congress to qualify as a full professional carillonneur. If students and faculty thought his playing was poor, it would have been interesting to hear what they thought of the "Heelers" who were just beginning to learn the new instrument! In 1975 University Secretary Henry Chauncey tried to silence the daily 6 PM ring because of several complaints by Branford College Master William Zinsser. This led to an outrage by many students and faculty, and the Yale College Council resolved that the concerts should be continued. Later that year, a flurry of "Letters to the Editor" in The Yale Daily News attacked the carillon again. While this type of attack would recur from time to time, a greater number of positive comments about the beautiful music of the bells were sounded as well.