History & Carillonneur

The Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon is the gift of Senator Thomas Rees, publisher of Illinois State Register from 1881 until his death in 1933. During World War I, Rees served on the International Board of Arbitration for newspapers and later for unions, providing him the opportunity to travel throughout Europe. Rees attributed his great interest in bells to visiting carillons in Belgium and the Netherlands—although his initial interest was the result of articles he had read in National Geographic, the Musical Quarterly and Art and Archeology by William Gorham Rice.

Rees provided a $200,000 bequest to build the carillon and left very specific instructions in his will regarding the number of bells and the location of the carillon. Robert Stuart, President of the Springfield Park District (1959 – 1975) carefully and mendaciously implemented the Senator’s vision by consulting and hiring the architects, designers and bell foundry when the carillon was constructed. While the Rees Carillon is one of the world’s largest carillons with 67 bells, more importantly, the quality of the bells coupled with the tower’s location in Washington Park distinguish the Rees Carillon as one of the world’s finest instruments.

The Carillon
The Rees carillon boasts 67 cast bronze bells covering a range of 5 1/2 chromatic octaves. The total weight of the bells is 82,753 pounds; the largest (bourdon) bell, a G-flat, weighs 7 1/2 tons, while the smallest weighs 22 pounds. The carillon was cast by the 300-year-old bell foundry of Petit & Fritsen, Ltd.,in Aarle-Rixtel, The Netherlands. All of the bells are played manually by means of the keyboard located in the carillonist’s cabin.

Appointed this coming October, 2015, Carlo van Ulft is the fourth individual to serve as the Park District’s Carillonist since the Rees Carillon was completed in 1962. An accomplished performer and teacher, Carlo served as Centralia’s Director/Carillonist for 18 years prior to his arrival in Springfield. Mr. van Ulft, a native of The Netherlands, holds European Masters Level degrees in Organ Performance, Carillon Performance and Theatre Organ Performance. He served on the faculty of the Royal Carillon School “Jef Denyn” in Mechelen, Belgium, from 1984-1997 and held position of Municipal Carillonist in four cities in The Netherlands prior to moving to America.

Carlo served on the Board of Directors of the GCNA from 2005-2011 and currently serves on several GCNA sub-committees. He received the Medal of Honor of the University of California-Berkeley in 1993 for “distinguished service to the carillon.” In 2015, Carlo was author of a new book, “Arranging for the Carillon” and as an arranger, he has had many of his pieces published and in widespread circulation. A few of Carlo’s original compositions have also been published. Recognizing the need for an independent carillon institute which will serve carillonists of all ages and skill levels and with an interest in a variety of musical styles, Carlo founded the North American Carillon School in 2012. The NACS continues to grow and currently has branches throughout North America.

Carlo succeeds Robin Austin who served as Park District Carillonist for the past two years and Karel Keldermans, who served as Park District Carillonidy for 35 years before his retirement in 2012. Among many accomplishments as a composer and performer, Karel along with his wife Linda have contributed immeasurably to the art of the carillon here and abroad through the International Carillon Festival, their book Carillon: The Evolution of a Concert Instrument in North America and the expansion of American Carillon Music Editions. Karel succeeded his father Raymond, who was the Park District’s carillonist from 1962 to his retirement in 1976. Among many accomplishments, Raymond is recognized as the founder of the International Carillon Festival, a prolific composer and an outstanding church musician.

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