Groundbreaking for the Relocation and Renovation of the Arthur R. Metz Bicentennial Grand Carillon

Indiana Memorial Union

Thursday, April 04, 2019

IU President Michael A. McRobbie speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Arthur R. Metz Bicentennial Grand Carillon.  Photo by Chaz Mottinger, Indiana University

An instrument for the people

In the words of one early 20th century carillonneur and composer, the carillonneur "is the artist of and for the people," who "brings art to the people" and "convinces (the) audience with clear and understandable beauty. Nowhere," he writes, "does a (song) sound as it does on a carillon, played by an inspired carillonneur!"1

Today, as we symbolically break ground for the work of upgrading and relocating IU's Arthur R. Metz Bicentennial Grand Carillon to the center of the Bloomington campus, we also celebrate the fact that the instrument will once again bring "clear and understandable beauty" to those who teach, study, and work on the Bloomington campus. And, as we celebrate Indiana University’s Bicentennial, this initiative is one of many that will allow us to honor and expand IU's history and traditions, and to amplify the beauty and character our campuses.

A brief history of the carillon

The casting and use of bells can be traced back more than 3,000 years to the Shang and Zhou dynasties of China, when bronze chime bells were used to perform ritual music.2

The carillon as we know it today developed in Europe in the Middle Ages, in the region known as the Low Countries, now centered on Belgium and the Netherlands. Towers in this area had a large bell that was used to strike the hour and to warn citizens in the event of fire, flood, invasion, or other dangers. Eventually, smaller bells were added and the name "quatrillon" came to be applied to the instrument.3 From this French term, which denoted bells hanging on the four sides of a tower, the word "carillon" was derived.4

"The carillon," writes Belgian carillonneur and historian of the instrument, Luc Rombouts, was "the first musical mass medium in history."5

The instrument played an important role in the cultural lives of European communities for centuries, where it enlivened market days, memorial days, religious and other festivals, and a variety of celebratory occasions. Befitting their importance, many towers of exquisite architectural beauty were designed and built to house the instruments. As William Gorham Rice, whose books helped popularize the carillon in North America, wrote: "By their proportions and strength, by their domination of the scene, they satisfy the eye even before the melody of their bells comes to please the ear."6

The instrument itself evolved dramatically over more than 400 years, from a small, two-octave grouping of bells to the keyboard instrument it became in the early 20th century. During that time, skilled founders became adept at creating finely-tuned bells for the instruments, and many renowned composers contributed to the development of a large idiomatic musical repertoire.

Today, there are about 640 carillons world-wide. North America is home to approximately 180 of these, about a third of which are on college or university campuses in the United States.

IU Metz Carillon

IU’s Metz Carillon was built in 1970 as part of the celebration of Indiana University's 150th anniversary, and it was dedicated in 1971.

The Metz Carillon was a remarkable musical instrument containing 61 bells, allowing for a 5-octave performance range, which is rare among carillons. But its former remote and impractical location, with no space for comfortable audience seating, meant that it was rarely used for performances. In addition, over 50 years, the former carillon tower badly deteriorated due to weather and other factors.

By moving it to the center of campus, adjoining the Jesse and Beulah Cox Arboretum, large audiences will once again be able to enjoy regular concerts and recitals by faculty and students from IU's renowned Jacobs School of Music on this magnificent instrument. In addition, the Jacobs School and the Bloomington campus will revive the tradition of inviting distinguished carillonneurs from around the world to perform on the instrument.

A beautiful new design for the tower has been created by New York City architect Susan Rodriguez, of Susan T. Rodriguez Architecture and Design, in collaboration with architect Jonathan Hess of Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf of Indianapolis. These architects were also partners in the design of IU’s Global and International Studies Building and the design of the renovations to the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art that are now almost complete.

But just as important and exciting as the relocation and renovation of the original Metz Carillon will be its upgrade, by the addition of four new bells, taking it to 65 bells. This will make it a grand carillon, one of less than 30 in the world and one of only a handful in the United States. This will enable it to play the full repertoire of thousands of compositions that comprise the canon of published carillon music.

The new bells are being crafted by Royal Eijsbouts Bellfoundry in the Netherlands, the world’s premier manufacturer of carillon bells, and the company that cast the original Metz Carillon bells. Each of the original bells was inscribed with quotes about music from American and English authors. As it turned out, all 61 of those quotes were, unfortunately, from male writers. So, with the addition of the four new bells, we will take a step to rectify this, at least in small measure, by engraving quotes about music from four influential women writers from different periods of history. The new bells will feature quotes from the 6th century B.C. Greek poet, Sappho; the 12th century German Benedictine abbess, composer, and polymath, Hildegard of Bingen; American poet Emily Dickinson; and the late writer, poet, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou.

The IU Bicentennial, campus beautification, philanthropic support

Given that the Metz Carillon was built as part of the observance of IU's 150th anniversary, it is fitting that its upgrade and relocation are taking part in conjunction with the university's Bicentennial.

I announced in my 2016 State of the University address that a major focus as we approached IU’s Bicentennial in 2020 would be to build on and enhance the character and ethos of IU’s campuses so that they are environments that foster excellence in all things and are magnets for the best and most deserving students.  And so, one of our central goals is to continue to heighten the beauty and character of our campuses. This beauty and character stem from many features: architecture, manicured landscapes, strategic planning to maintain standards of building quality, and from the public art that not only beautifies our campuses, but also reminds us of our shared history and inspires reflection.

Just as IU Bloomington's beautiful arboretum was made possible through the generosity of two of the university's most dedicated supporters, Jesse and Beulah Cox, so too is the relocation and upgrade of the Metz Carillon being made possible through generous philanthropic support.

On behalf of Indiana University, I want to extend our most grateful thanks to the Metz Foundation, which is helping make this project possible, and to the associates of the Well House Society of the IU Foundation—many of whom are here today. Well House Society associates are annual donors whose unrestricted support allows us to beautify IU’s campuses and enrich its academic mission—and their support is also helping make the upgrade and relocation of the carillon possible.


The Arthur R. Metz Bicentennial Grand Carillon will be a beautiful new campus landmark, a testament to the transformative power of philanthropy, and a reflection of the great strength of the relationships that this university has fostered over many years. Its splendid new plaza will come to hold special meaning for countless students, faculty, staff, and visitors for generations to come. And, of course, talented musicians will perform inspiring music on the carillon as Indiana University enters its third century of service.

To borrow from carillonneur and historian Luc Rombouts, all of us look forward to the day when the Bloomington campus will ring with "the energy of tons of singing bronze."7

Source Notes

  1. Frans Althuizen, "Should the Carillonneur be an Artist?" as quoted in André Lehr, The Art of the Carillon in the Low Country, (Lannoo, 1991), 264-265.
  2. Lothar von Talkenhausen, Suspended Music: Chime-Bells in the Culture of Bronze Age China, (University of California Press, 1994), 25.
  3. William Gorham Rice, Carillons of Belgium and Holland: Tower Music in the Low Countries, (John Lane Company, 1915), 75.
  4. Karel and Linda Keldermand, Carillon: The Evolution of a Concert Instrument in North America, (Springfield Park District, 1996), ix.
  5. Luc Rombouts, Singing Bronze: A History of Carillon Music, (Leuven University Press, 2014), 11.
  6. Rice, 22.
  7. Luc Rombouts, Singing Bronze: A History of Carillon Music, (Leuven University Press, 2014), 12.