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60 Minutes or Less: U. of C. carillon looks big, sounds bigger

Wylie Crawford

Wylie Crawford

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Updated: March 28, 2013 5:27PM

What: What is Chicago’s largest musical instrument? The answer might surprise you: the carillon — one of the two largest in the world — at the top of the University of Chicago’s 207-feet-tall Rockefeller Chapel. Installed in 1934, it comprises 72 bells and 100 tons of bronze, including an 18½-ton bell that is more massive than any in Paris.

Tours take place today and nearly every day during the academic year. Visitors first climb the 271 steps of the tower and view the highlights of the huge instrument. Wylie Crawford, the university’s carillonneur since 1984, or one of his assistants then performs a half-hour concert seated at a 7-foot-long, Gothic-style console.

Insider’s take: “People can stay for just the beginning or the whole half hour,” Crawford said. “They also have the opportunity to go to the roof, and there is an open-air observatory where they can look in all four directions and get a good view of the Loop, the lake and the South Side. The music varies depending on the performer — anything from Bach to rock. We’ve played the ‘Harry Potter’ theme, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and Beatles music. You name it.”

Particulars: During the academic year, carillon tours and concerts take place at 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 12:15 p.m. Sundays. Participants should meet at the front desk of the Rockefeller Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn.

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