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Past and present

The city of Albany was the hometown of William Gorham Rice, the greatest promotor of the carillon art in the United States during and after the First World War. Rice’s publications and lectures were instrumental for growing popularity of the Belgian carillon across the Atlantic. It is no surprise that in 1918, he proposed to the Albany Common Council to erect a memorial carillon in honor of the fallen in the Great War and to place this instrument in the tower of the city hall, that dates from 1883. This proposal was not acted upon.

In 1926 the proposal was again offered with the inclusion of other memorials. This call received widespread response and within two months, the necessary funds were raised. 25,000 citizens contributed to the project. The carillon was dedicated in 1927 with a concert by Jef Denyn before an audience of 50,000 people. Of the 60 bells installed, 6 were dedicated to the fallen in the war. The instrument was the first municipal carillon in the USA and responded to Rice’s dream to develop the carillon art as an expression of good citizenship. However, later on, the American carillon culture would rather develop in university campuses, public parks and churches than in city centers.

One set of 13 duplicate treble bells was disconnected in the 40s and in 1959, the baton keyboard was replaced by an electronic keyboard.  This operation was undone in 1986. In 1986 and 1989, most of the bells were recast by the Taylor bell-foundry, which had cast also the original bells. Two of the original bells were placed on the grave of William Gorham Rice and his wife at Albany Rural Cemetery to replace the two bells that were originally on his grave but had been stolen.

Facts and figures

Number of bells 49
Total weight of the bells ca. 25,000 kg
Weight of the bourdon ca. 5080 kg
Pitch of bourdon g, connected to B flat in the keyboard
Bell-founders John Taylor and Co. (12 from 1927, 24 from 1986, 13 from 1989)
Manual playing system mechanical baton-type keyboard
Automatic playing system none
Carillonneur Amy Heebner and Charles Semowich
Regular recitals Wednesday and Friday noon
Summer concerts Sundays in June and July from 1 to 2 pm
Accessibility of the tower by appointment

Significant inscription

To perpetuate the memory of the Albany Boys
Who fought in the World War
This bell is given by the children of Albany
Mary A. Rulison and Helen S. Skillicorn

Inscription on bell n° 16

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