The History of the Carillon

The Rees Carillon’s History

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 meticulously 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 distinguishes 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 carillonneur’s cabin.

The Carillon Society

Thomas Rees love of carillons and carillon music continues to flourish thanks to a vibrant, longstanding partnership between the Springfield Park District and the Rees Carillon Society and The Carillon Belles. Each year, the Rees Carillon Society raises funds for the International Carillon Festival and special educational projects for the Rees Carillon through its special events.

The Carillon Society’s History

On March 4, 1963, an organizational meeting was held at the Springfield Park District offices to form a volunteer group whose express purpose was to work with the Park District and Raymond Keldermans, the then newly appointed carillonneur, to promote the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon. In early 1965, Violet Touch formed the Carillon Belles, a ladies’ auxiliary to further support the Carillon. The Rees Carillon Society and The Carillon Belles have faithfully and energetically followed this charge for the past 50 plus years – providing essential volunteer and fundraising support.

The Rees Carillon Society is an, independent, not for profit organization to support and promote the activities of the Rees Carillon Memorial Carillon. The mission of the Rees Carillon Society is to promote the culture, awareness, education, and enjoyment of cast bells through student tours and fundraising and special events, such as Art Spectacular, Carve for the Carillon, Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, and Caroling at the Carillon.

The Carillon Belles

The Carillon Belles, the ladies’ auxiliary of the Rees Carillon Society, promote the Rees Carillon. Founded by Violet Touch in 1965, The Carillon Belles work with the Rees Carillon Society to promote the culture of cast bells by:

  • Giving tours of the Carillon to Springfield area 3rd graders
  • Helping with the International Carillon Festival
  • Volunteering at the Rees Carillon Society’s special community events: Art Spectacular, Carve for the Carillon, Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, and Caroling at the Carillon