Since 1928, when a carillon was installed atop the Plummer Building, downtown Rochester listeners have been treated to near-daily concerts from this musical instrument made of bells.
But the audience, made up of Mayo Clinic patients and staff and sidewalk pedestrians, has always been limited by the carillon's reach. Its resonant vibrations project only about two to three blocks from its bell-tower source.
Now that reach is going global. Thanks to technology being installed this week, when Mayo carillonneur Austin Ferguson begins playing on Friday, his concert will be livestreamed to anyone interested in hearing it.
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"It's just bringing what is a very ancient instrument into the 21st century," said Ferguson, only the fourth carillonneur in Mayo's 93-year history. "The idea of recording and video equipment being available in carillon towers has really gained momentum in the last 10 to 15 years."
A carillon is a set of harmonically tuned bronze bells in a tower, played using a keyboard. All carillons have at least 23 bells. Mayo's has 56. The musician manipulates a row of wooden levers, which are connected to clappers that strike the bells. When the bells sound on Friday, the sound will be captured by eight weather-protected microphones and transmitted on the Mayo Clinic History and Heritage website.
The performance will be carried visually, as well. A camera mounted on the wall of the playing cabin will allow people to view performances by Ferguson and guest artists.
Ferguson is uncertain how much his audience might grow with the aid of streaming technology. Mayo Clinic's wildly popular falcon cam, which livestreams the growth of peregrine falcon chicks in a nest atop a clinic building, has 3.5 million views this year.
Ferguson admits to a bit of stage fright. A carillon is not only a different kind of instrument. The experience of playing one is different.
While the audience is potentially made up of thousands, they are down below, far beneath the tower where a carillonneur never sees or hears them. The recording equipment, at least for a while, will intrude on that sense of solitude, making him aware of being watched, listened to, and possibly critiqued.
"That's the reason I'm so stressed about Friday. My (carillon) colleagues have been aware of this, and they're going to be zooming in," Ferguson said.
"Somebody once referred to the carillon as the most democratic yet autocratic of instruments, because everyone hears it. One person is deciding what you're going to hear," he added.
But livestreaming performances "up in the tower" has been something Ferguson wanted to do since he was hired four years ago.
"The main driving force behind this project was: We want to be able to share it not just with people that are sitting in downtown Rochester," he said. "Mayo Clinic is a system that has a very wide reach."
Mayo is the only medical center in North America with its own carillon. There are 166 of them in the U.S., according to the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America. The installation of streaming technology for Mayo's carillon is part of trend with carillons nationwide, Ferguson said.
Mayo officials declined to say how much the technology improvements cost. The project is funded in part by the Sisters of Saint Francis, with a gift from benefactors Gerald and Henrietta Rauenhorst. The Twin Cities-based Exhibits Development Group provided specialty consultation.
This fall, Mayo Clinic and EDG will open an exhibit about the carillon at the historic Chateau Theatre on the Peace Plaza in Rochester.
Ferguson plays Monday through Friday at 4:45 p.m., as well as Mondays at 7 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at noon.