Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU’s new carillon program reunites friends

Todd Fair and Andrea McCrady followed the siren song to the Netherlands Carillon School in the mid-70s. There they met, became friends and studied under the masters on the bells of the Tower of Our Lady in Amersfoort. 

Fair stayed in the Netherlands for the next 24 years, learning Dutch and the carillon, teaching carillon and becoming the first non-Dutch carillonneur for the city of Amsterdam. McCrady went on to practice medicine for 24 years. 

She ran a hospital in Thailand and clinics for American Indians, migrants and the homeless in the Northwest before entering private practice in Spokane, Wash., nearly a decade ago. 

The two friends have been reunited in Denver this year as teacher and student. The installation of the 65-bell carillon in DU’s Williams Tower and the subsequent opening for a carillonneur brought Fair home to the U.S. in 1999 where he won the job. 

McCrady, who kept her carillon playing and passion alive during her years in medicine, left her practice this fall to become the first student to enroll in DU’s new undergraduate carillon curriculum. 

The Lamont School of Music this fall becomes the first music program in the country to offer a bachelor’s degree in carillon, and it’s one of a handful that offers a master’s in the instrument. 

“Offering a bachelor’s and a master’s degree should spread the word about our carillon and raise the stature of our program,” Fair says. 

For McCrady, the chance to once again study with Fair—on an exceptional instrument, in a city she knows and loves—persuaded her to leave Spokane and start another of a long series of adventures. 

“You need to shake up your life every few years,” McCrady says. 

McCrady brings with her a wealth of talent. She plays piano, sang in the Spokane Symphony Chorale and danced in the Spokane Folklore Society. 

She has been active in national and worldwide carillon organizations, has been the featured performer at international carillon festivals, and has served as carillonneur for St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. Most of her travels have been inspired by the presence of a carillon at destination’s end. 

The melodious tones of multiple bells draw deep commitment from lovers of the carillon—a group McCrady calls her “small, dysfunctional family.” They climb steep stairs to a high tower to practice and play. 

It takes a kind of controlled athleticism, Fair says, to reach, touch and release the piano-like keys attached by wires to the bells. 

The sounds produced can cover every genre of music, from classical to pop. Each year more and more music is written for the carillon, Fair says, often by top composers. 

Fair has played six newly written carillon pieces during the past year, a body of work unheard of just a decade ago. Such is the spreading enthusiasm for carillon. 

McCrady, who has pursued her dream of playing carillon for more than two decades, wants to be part of that enthusiasm. She hopes that a degree from DU will propel her musical career and prepare her for spreading her love of carillon to future students. 

“I dream of teaching the next generation of carillonneurs,” she says. 

This article originally appeared in The SourceSeptember 2006.

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