Can you hear the bells? Unique opportunity to play Va. War Memorial Carillon

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RICHMOND, Va. — The carillon bells won’t ring for two years at the Virginia War Memorial Carillon in Richmond’s Byrd Park because of major renovations going on. But Thursday, students and musicians from around the area had the unique opportunity to play the piano-like instrument with the man whose hands have touched it for decades.

The Carillon is the Commonwealth’s monument dedicated to the 3,700 Virginia men and women who died during World War I. It’s liked on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Virginia Historic Landmark. 

The Department of General Services closed the Carillon in 2017 for renovations. The first phase was finished before the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day last year. Following the event, the tower was closed once again. Renovations are expected to be complete in the fall of 2021.  

“The Carillon facility has 53 bells. That are original  from the 1930’s. They’re out of England from a company John Taylor and Company,” Ralph Olberg, of the Dept. of General Services, said. “They come yearly to help retune.” 

The carillon is a unique instrument, there are about 600 around the world. Virginia has a handful. 

The Richmond carillonneur who plays the instrument, Larry Robinson, was on hand today to talk to students from the University of Richmond about it. 

“Well, I’m delighted because I won’t be here forever. And if there was nobody left to play it that would be just a terrible shame,” Robinson said.

A number of musicians were also there to play. Elisa Tersigni is originally from Toronto, Canada, but lives in Washington, D.C. She’s been playing the carillon for five years and studied piano before. 

“With other instruments, you’ll buy a ticket and go to a concert hall and listen to it,” she said. “But with carillon your audience can’t help put listen to you – they’re walking around and they just happen to listen.” 

The bells rung out to songs from Beauty and the Beast and Game of Thrones as Tersigni played. She always tried to pick pieces people walking around the area would notice.  

“[People] often think we’re a computer, they don’t realize we’re an actual person,” Tersigni said. “When people play things that are recognizable, then people get interested and then they get excited. They maybe they’ll look into it.” 

If anyone is interested in learning how to play carillon, Robinson is willing to take on students. Contact Dena Potter with the Department of General Services with any questions, at dena.potter(at)DGS.Virginia.gov or (804)-786-0282.

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