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Rochester Carillon undergoes first major renovation in 90 years

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – The Mayo Clinic is one of the world’s most-renowned hospitals, but it’s the only one to have a carillon (a musical instrument made up of bronze cup shaped bells) at the top of one of its buildings. For the first time in nearly a century, major renovation work is being done on the instrument.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for somebody who plays an instrument like this to be a part of a complete rebuild like this,” said Austin Ferguson, the hospital’s fourth carillonneur in 90 years.

Built in 1928, the carillon has survived 90 Minnesota winters inside the tower of the Plummer Building, and after years of wear and tear the carillon’s original system broke down last February. “Since we were in talks of doing this project, it was decided that instead of fixing that system we’d replace it with a new state of the art foam controllable chime system,” added Ferguson.

Three of the carillon’s 56 bells

That means the bells and keyboard won’t be replaced, just the system that allows the bells to ring. The new system has also entered the 21st century in that it’s electric rather than steam-powered. The clappers, which make the bells ring, will also hit the outside of the bells instead of the inside.

A crew from South Carolina is finishing up the instrument’s frame this month while a second crew will fly in from Belgium next month to install wires and fine tune the keyboard. “When all is said and done the total work time will be about maybe four weeks of actual construction.”

The Plummer Building

According to Matthew Dacy, the director of Heritage Hall at Mayo Clinic, work has been done on the carillon throughout its life, but this is the first major restoration project. The work will ensure the life of the carillon for generations to come.

Everything should wrap up in March, just in time for the carillon’s music to ring us into spring.

Shannon Rousseau

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