Alfred University’s Davis Carillon joins daily local pealing tribute to medical frontliners, emergency responders
Alfred University’s Davis Memorial Carillon this week began a daily musical tribute to medical personnel and emergency responders on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
ALFRED, NY -- Alfred University’s Davis Memorial Carillon this week began a daily musical tribute to medical personnel and emergency responders on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The recitals, which are being performed five days a week, are a way for the University and the Village of Alfred to express jointly their gratitude for the efforts of the medical and ambulance communities, according to Alfred Mayor Becky Prophet ‘70, who also teaches theater and acting at the University.
Two retired University faculty members, Laurel Buckwalter '89 and Stephen Crandall ‘76, are playing the 80-year-old, 47-bell instrument on alternate days of the week, Monday through Friday. Crandall, former dean of Alfred University Libraries, is a resident of the Village of Alfred, and Buckwalter, who taught in the University’s Division of Performing Arts, is a resident of the surrounding Town of Alfred.
Prophet, Buckwalter and Crandall also volunteer with Alfred’s volunteer ambulance and fire service, the A. E. Crandall Hook and Ladder Company.
Residents of Alfred, many gathering near the carillon at 7pm since the concerts began Monday, have been listening to Buckwalter and Crandall’s performances of American the Beautiful, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, and Alfred University’s Alma Mater. In addition, Buckwalter Monday evening played Elegy for Teiva, by Gail Scholes Siess, whose son, Daniel Siess Rain ‘96, graduated from Alfred University, and whose grandchild, Teiva, died at birth.
The evening music begins with a short pealing of bells in church and municipal towers in the Village of Alfred, followed by Buckwalter and Crandall’s 10-minute recitals. Following their concerts, the three largest bells in the carillon begin pealing, after which village residents are stepping outside their homes and shouting out individual appreciations. Prophet calls the front porch cheering “a community cacophony, just to let everyone know we’re all alive in spite of our social distancing.”
The idea to include the University’s carillon – one of only 180 concert carillons in North America – in Alfred’s evening bell ringing celebration came from Alfred village resident James Ninos, who serves with Prophet on the village municipal board. Prophet says she relayed Ninos’ suggestion to Alfred University President Mark Zupan, who in turn proposed the idea to the University Cabinet. On Thursday last week, only days after the suggestion was floated, the University agreed to the proposal.
"Many of our faculty and staff serve as volunteers for the A.E. Crandall Hook and Ladder Co.,” Zupan says, adding the volunteer services “prides itself on having more doctorates on staff than any other such volunteer company in the country.
“With the ongoing threat of COVID-19, we appreciate more than ever the selfless nature of the tasks firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and ambulance drivers undertake daily.”
University officials initially had to determine whether Buckwalter and Crandall’s performances were restricted under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order limiting non-essential business activity. Michael Kozlowski, Executive Director of the University’s Office of Marketing and Communications, notes both Buckwalter and Crandall are volunteering their services, and the concerts are being offered outside the university’s formal operations. In addition, Buckwalter and Crandall are abiding by state and national health standards to protect themselves and avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
As musicians, Buckwalter and Crandall point out the carillon is a musical instrument, as opposed to a bell tower. Playing it is physically demanding: The keyboard and floor pedals move clappers, many of which are heavy, through a manual leveraging system. The carilloneur also must have an experienced understanding and feel for the instrument. Unlike a church organ or a piano, the carillon does not respond instantly to finger or foot pressure.
Crandall has been playing the Davis Carillon for 45 years, going back to when he was an undergraduate at Alfred University. Buckwalter, in addition to her own experience as a carilloneur, has studied the history of the University’s carillon. Named for former Alfred University President Dr. Boothe Colwell Davis, the instrument was assembled on the Alfred University campus in 1937 following a joint university-village fundraising effort. Its bells span a musical range of four octaves.
NOTE: Buckwalter plans to broadcast her Wednesday evening recitals on Facebook Live. Please visit the Davis Memorial Carillon Facebook page at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays to listen to that evening's recital.