For the past week, the bells at the top of Rush Rhees were rung in memory of alumni who lost their lives due to COVID-19.
A video compiling these performances will be released next Friday, Feb. 26, in place of a carillon concert that would usually happen on the Eastman Quadrangle, but was canceled in light of ongoing public health concerns.
Doris Aman teaches a select group of students how to play on UR’s Hopeman Carillon each semester. She and her students planned the concert. “The thing that stimulated this was that the Rochester Review had a section with a list of alumni that had died this year, and it was four pages long,” Aman explained. “The concert is dedicated to the alumni who have passed, and their families.”
The first section will feature Chopin’s Prelude Opus 28 No. 4, played by sophomore Kayla Gunderson. “[The] piece was played at Chopin’s funeral,” Gunderson said. “[It] was the first Chopin I played on the piano, so it’s definitely special to me. And it’s a beautiful, mournful piece, so I think that it fits well.”
Gunderson also played “O Store Gud” (How Great Thou Art), a Swedish hymn often played at funerals. The section is focused on meditation, reflection, and somber commemoration of the alumni who have passed this year.
Next, the concert will turn to families struggling in this difficult year and this bitter winter, with “Rainbow Connection” and “El Noi de la Mare,” a Catalonian folk song. The concert will continue branching out from the deceased and families into the third section, which focuses on struggles facing our entire country. “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” played by sophomore Vanessa Wish, closes this section. The version known by that name uses the lyrics of a British patriotic song.
“It’s emphasizing people’s dedication to their country, especially frontline workers in the pandemic, and memorializing what they’ve done,” Wish said. The piece is also known as “Jupiter,” and is the fourth of seven movements in Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite “The Planets.” The piece emphasizes national and worldwide grief and the need for solidarity and compassion. Its triumphant, powerful notes take advantage of the massive scale on which the carillon is heard.
The carillon is a communal instrument, and those in the class felt it wouldn’t be right to play it without acknowledging the struggles of our community. “There’s been so much going on in the Rochester community both over the summer and right now,” Aman said, “so we have a section dedicated to those who carry heavy burdens that they did not choose.”
This section is poignantly opened with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the Black National Anthem, and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” a Black spiritual song. Though the section is dedicated to all those who struggle unjustly, the songs recognize the prominent struggles of our moment and our community.
500 bell tolls will conclude the concert, one for every thousand Americans who have died due to COVID-19. The recorded concert will go live on Facebook on Friday, Feb. 26 at 7:00 p.m.