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#142 The Charlotte Nichols Greene Memorial Carillon

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, This Week in History

“Carillon music has the quality of floating between the earth and the sky, and a carillon is capable of effects far different than any other instrument. As body and mind accustom themselves to the new form of music, there are times when only this instrument will satisfy.” – Professor Arthur Lynds Bigelow (1909–1967)

In 1934, Charlotte Nichols Greene of Boston purchased a carillon that had been part of the Belgian government’s exhibit in the “Century of Progress” Exposition at the Chicago World’s Fair. Shortly after acquiring the 36 bells and playing mechanism, Greene donated them to Harvard, where they lay in storage for 22 years. Following Greene’s death in 1956, her son, Stephen Greene, and his wife, Janet, of Dover, Vermont, reclaimed Mrs. Greene’s gift and donated it to Norwich.

To house the carillon, President Harmon had a 50-foot tower built in a corner of the Upper Parade, next to the old Dodge Hall. The building was made possible by a gift from Sue Adams Boyer, a lover of music, generous patron of the arts, and one of the founders of the Vermont Philharmonic. Boyer named the tower in memory of the mother of her late husband, Dr. Porter Hartwell Adams, 16th president of Norwich. Construction began in fall 1956, and by December the Jeannie Porter Adams Memorial Tower was complete. The first concerts were performed that winter by Robert Donnell, resident carillonneur of the Peace Tower Carillon in Ottawa, Canada. Professor Arthur Lynds Bigelow of Princeton University, a world-renowned bell expert and this country’s premier carillon designer at the time, played at the 1957 Commencement.

In 1958, based on Bigelow’s recommendations, 27 of the original bells were sent to the Paccard Foundry France to be retuned (5) or recast (22). In addition, 11 new bells (5 lower basses and 6 higher trebles) were purchased, bringing the total to 47. The largest of these weighed 3500 lbs., while the smallest was a mere 10 lbs. At the same time, Bigelow built a new playing mechanism to accommodate the increased number of bells. Still in use today, it remains a supreme example of the master’s work.

After the expansion, Norwich could claim proud ownership of a “grande” carillon, comprising four full octaves of perfectly matched, tuned, and blended bells (minus the lowest E3 and F#3). Unfortunately, a prolonged period of disuse followed, during which weather and air pollutants took their toll on the transmission hardware, rendering the instrument virtually unplayable. A complete overhaul in 1997, followed by regularly scheduled maintenance, now keep the mechanics of the instrument up to the finest standard in the world.

Today, thanks to an endowed fund created by late Board of Fellows’ member George Garrison, NU 1942, and his late brother, longtime trustee Ritchie Garrison, NU 1937, the bells are played by resident carillonneur George Matthew Jr. for convocation, homecoming, parent-family weekend, open houses, Veterans Day, commencement, and other special occasions. In addition, the popular summer concert series, featuring guest carillonneurs from all over the world, draws audiences of 50 or more concert-goers each Saturday in July.