The Carillon in the Chapel

That's Grungy's hand.

This might be the most interesting thing I saw in the chapel. I went to college at a school (Iowa State) that had a carillon and I always loved it, even as a callow undergraduate. I’d even seen it up close once for a class and was amazed at the sheer physicality it took to play the enormous bells. So I was quite surprised when I was shown this tiny box attached to the wall in the organ loft and was told it was the carillon. But it really is.

Here’s how this happened. When the chapel was completed in 1959, Rice was looking for an organist who could also help manage the facility. The soon found Roland Pomerat, an

This is Roland Pomerat at the keyboard. Believe it or not, I found this picture in a football program.

organist and carilloneur who had trained at Riverside Church in New York. Pomerat was living in Houston with his brother, a researcher at the UT Medical School. He took the job as organist and assistant manager of the chapel, but also began exploring the idea of building an electronic carillon at Rice in collaboration with with an electronic engineer from California named Paul Rowe, partner in the Maas-Rowe Carillon Company.

After a good bit of tinkering, the electronic carillon was installed in the fall of 1962. (It replaced a twenty-four unit, single note melody system up in the RMC tower, that the Thresher claimed was “famous for its catchy rendition of ‘Danny Boy.'”) The new instrument was operated from the keyboards of the pipe organ. There are 74 bronze rods, graduated from two feet down to a few inches. At the foot of each rod is a tiny electromagnetic hammer that responds to the playing of the organist. When one of these hammers hits a rod, the tone it produces is very, very faint, but it was amplified and then transmitted through telephone wires to the campanile.

They also set it up so that it could be played automatically through some kind of system of cut rolls. Here’s the front of the box with the automatic controls:

Here’s the schedule:

I don’t know how long Pomerat stayed at Rice, or how long the carillon continued to be played. I’d really appreciate any information about this at all, so if you know anything now’s the time to speak up.

Here’s a very Rice-like bonus:

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11 Responses to The Carillon in the Chapel

  1. Student says:

    Is the carillon still there? I think it would be awesome if students were allowed to play it!

  2. Todd Fair says:

    The REAL carillon at ISU is in the campanile and contains REAL (not electronic) bells cast of bronze in England. The largest bells from 1899 were the first well-tuned bells imported into the United States. These bells have NOTHING to do with the electronic bells in the chapel. ISU carillonneur is Tin-shi Tam, Dept. of Music, Music Hall 057, Ames, IA 50011; 515-294-2911; tstam@IAState.edu

  3. Anzel says:

    My understanding is the bells are still there, but were disconnected from the organ. What I heard was that mischievous organ players would go up to the chapel and play the Westminster Chimes…at times like 10 minutes before the hour. Then they’d laugh as everyone started running towards their classes, thinking they were late.

  4. Deborah says:

    Some kind of carillon was operating when I lived on-campus in Hanszen fall 1976-spring 1978. It rang the hours (but not overnight) and played Christmas Carols in season. I bet Grungy’s friend Chris R. Knows more details. I think the carillon had stopped operating by about 1980.

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  6. John Turner says:

    There could be more information about the April, 1968, Post article … but has the statue of limitations run on stuff like this?

  7. Beau Jon Sackett says:

    Further to the question in the article about Roland Pomerat, I can vouch for the fact that he was still at Rice in 1968-9. I’m not sure exactly when his little Alfa Romeo stopped being parked at the RMC, but it was after I finally left Rice – and Houston, for that matter – in 1971.

    Back then, Rice had no music program at all, but I’d spent most of my high school days playing viola in various symphonies and was really missing it by 1968, my Junior year. One day while walking through the RMC, I stopped to talk to Roland about my problem, and he ended up renting me practice time by the hour on the chapel organ to allow me to study privately with an organist outside the hedges. It was great. I must have acquired some skills up in the loft, because I was able to play for the wedding of 2 of my classmates in 1969.

    Never did play the Carillon, though.

    • Bill Peebles, Hanszen '70 says:

      Just for the record, the year that BJ played for our wedding in the chapel was 1968. He lives in Surrey, British Columbia and I’m sorry to report his wife passed away last year. So now we’re both widowers.

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  9. Russell Harris says:

    To anyone who has interest, I can provide a bit more technical information regarding the carillon, as well as regarding a couple of albums (vinyl) which Roland recorded. The instrument is quite advanced, and is able to play full chords in any key without the dissonance characteristic of cast bells. In addition to the Alpha Romeo, Roland had a unusual bicycle designed especially for the commuter.

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