Oct 03, 2016

Bats in Belfry? How about peregrine falcons, instead! Burton Tower, one of the most iconic landmarks on the University of Michigan central campus was the first nesting location for a pair of falcons who have been returning to the campus for a number of years. This 192-foot-tall building will be celebrating its 80th anniversary this December so it’s a perfect time to explore the history and lore of this treasured tower.

Burton Tower was named for Dr. Marion L. Burton, University President from 1920-1925 who died in office. The signature feature of the tower is the Baird Carillon, housed in the bell chamber atop the structure. Donated by the University’s first athletic director and alumnus Charles Baird, it’s the third heaviest in the world and contains 53 bells cast by the John Taylor & Co. Bellfoundry in Loughborough, England.

A carillon is a series of bells consisting of at least two octaves that is played from a keyboard (clavier) translating the carillonneur’s key strokes to the bronze cup-shaped bells that hang overhead. The force in which the keys are played translates to how strongly the bells toll. To play the bells, the carillonneur uses loosely-closed fists to strike wooden batons which are arranged like the keys of a piano keyboard. The lowest bells may also be played from a pedal keyboard. No electricity is required for the functioning of this system.

At noon every weekday, faculty and students perform thirty-minute recitals with selections ranging from traditional composers, like Schumann and Mozart, to popular culture references such as the Star Trek theme song (performed to honor the series’ 50th Anniversary). The observation deck is currently closed through early December as the tower receives some infrastructure and lighting updates in advance of numerous campus-wide celebrations in honor of the University of Michigan’s bicentennial in 2018.

Interestingly, the Baird Carillon is not the only carillon on the University of Michigan campus. The Lurie Carillon is located on North Campus and can be viewed from Burton Tower.

Special thanks to the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

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