Carillonneurs carry on a UF tradition in Century Tower
Growing up, Katie Mann always had a passion for music. She started out playing the piano but moved to playing the classical cello for 10 years. She also plays the banjo.
“I play whatever instrument I can find,” she said.
Mann, a junior at the University of Florida, is one of 10 UF students who perform the carillon located at the top of Century Tower. She’s in her third semester performing as one of the carillonneurs, and she said she usually performs once a week, though she’s played up to three times in one week before.
The carillonneurs perform twice per day from 12:35 p.m. to 12:50 p.m., as well as 4:55 p.m. to 5:10 p.m. They also meet as a class once per week on Mondays.
“I like being a really loud person,” Mann said. “I like getting my voice out there. That’s the best part about carillon. Everyone can hear what you play. You get to play something you enjoy for so many people. They may not know it’s you, but you’re definitely playing something.”
Dr. Laura Ellis leads the group. She has been on the School of Music faculty since 2003 and serves as associate director, according to the Carillon Studio website. Ellis teaches graduate and undergraduate organ, harpsichord and carillon while also teaching Sacred Music courses.
“What I love about Dr. Ellis is that she treats every student like an individual,” Mann said. “She meets our individual needs. She’ll listen to you, she’ll care for you, and if you need something specific, she will help you with that. I love her.”
The carillon in Century Tower is a 61-bell instrument that can reach up to five octaves. It is one of four carillons in Florida, and there are less than 200 of them across North America. It is also regarded as one of the largest carillons in North America, according to the website.
In 1976, the instrument was purchased, and the first bells were played on May 14, 1979. However, this carillon had only 49 bells at the time, but a renovation in 2003 brought the number to 61.
Ryan Childress, a third-year law student at UF, joined the carillonneurs in 2018. Out of the 10 students who play, he has been a part of the group the longest. Even though Childress plans to keep his focus in the court room in the future, he will always be thankful for his time performing the instrument.
“It’s very satisfying for me to be a part of the culture of the school,” Childress said. “Doing this, I’ve been playing once a week in the middle of the day for the past five years. Everybody who’s been through campus has probably heard me play. I enjoy being a part of the whole ambiance of the school.”
Both Mann and Childress emphasized how close the group is. Meeting once a week and sharing a passion for music has allowed the group to bond. According to Childress, once a student joins, they usually stay until they graduate.
Childress said the group will take one or two long field trips throughout the semester. For example, the group took a trip to South Carolina in the fall to perform at different towers across the state.
“My closest friends that I’ve met at UF are the ones I’ve met through Carillon Studio,” Mann said. “It’s something that we can bond over. Everyone has their own quirks and that makes it a little family.”
Matthew Van Wert is a Cicerone at UF. He’s responsible for providing tours for students interested in attending the school. He said he enjoys hearing the bells when walking through campus, especially during the holiday season.
“It gives that university-style feel,” Van Wert said. “We go to school in a warm, humid climate and sometimes it can kind of lose that prestigious university charm. Having a bell tower that plays in that regard helps it make it feel like Hogwarts.”
Although there aren’t as many carillons in the U.S. compared to other countries, Mann hopes to continue playing the instrument in the future.
“If I were to win the lottery, I would want to move to a little Dutch town and play songs for the rest of my life,” she said. “In the United States, there aren’t a lot of carillons. People just stop playing them or no one attends to it. I would love to play if I could find one wherever I end up.”