Mayo's unique carillon rings over Rochesterby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Rochester, Minn. — This time of year, Jeff Daehn plays a lot of holiday classics. His tunes serenade Mayo patients, downtown workers and Rochester residents eight times a week.
"Within earshot of our tower we have both our synagogue, a couple churches and the mosque," Daehn says. "So, I always figure no matter what my particular affiliation might be I've got to always cover lots of bases."
But Daehn is no ordinary musician -- he's a carillonneur. On a recent morning, Daehn climbs to the top of one of Mayo's oldest buildings to play the clinic's carillon. He heads up stairs in the tower to stand below an array of bronze bells. Without a doubt, it's one of the most unique spots on the clinic's sprawling campus.
The Rochester carillon is one of the largest in the country and one of only three in Minnesota. The two other carillons are at the House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul and the Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
The musical instrument consists of 56 bronze bells housed in a tower. Carillon music is played on an odd-looking keyboard console and it's music that requires a lot of muscle.
Daehn tilts his head back and points to a few of the bells.
"This particular bell right in front of you is our four-ton bell. It's our lowest bell. It's the low b-flat," Daehn says. "On this side we see a couple of interesting things. On the front of the carriage, the upper beam, you see the smallest bell, which is our high G, and that's 17 pounds. So our range is from 4-tons to 17 pounds."
After the brief tour, Daehn steps into a heated booth to play the massive instrument. He sits on a wooden bench in front of a double row of thick oak keys, called batons.
Daehn slides left and right on the bench as he pounds the batons with his clenched, bare fists. It takes muscle to play this instrument. Each time he pounds on a baton or stomps on a pedal below, a loud, mechanical clatter fills the booth.
The force of his hands and feet are the only things that power the instrument. It's truly an upper body workout.
Daehn says the ringing sound of the carillon is unique because it's bells do not swing. When he presses the batons and pedals, clappers hit against the sides of the bells, creating the music.
He finishes the song, a European tune called Gavotte Pastoral, before offering some history about the Mayo Carillon.
"So behind you here are the two pictures of the men that preceded me in this position. First one, Jimmy, took the job. He was appointed by the Mayos in 1928 and the letter he got said: "Dear Jimmy: You can consider yourself appointed, or stuck, as carillonneur."
The Jimmy he refers to was James Drummond, who played the carillon for 30 years. After that, Dean Robinson played for 46 years before he died in 2004.
Robinson encouraged Daehn, an organist at the time, to learn the carillon.
"Then, I suddenly found myself being asked to take up his post, which I did," Daehn said and laughed. "So, here I am."
The Mayo carillon was not planned as part of the original structure of the building in the 1920s. But William J. Mayo, one of the founders of the clinic, took a medical trip to Belgium that sparked a fascination with carillons. He came back to Rochester and worked with architects to revise the building plans to include a carillon.
Daehn said he has worked here for six years and he loves his job. He practices two to three hours a day on a smaller instrument that looks like xylophone and is indoors. Sometimes, he practices on the weekends, and if there's something he really want to try outside, he'll do it early on a Sunday morning, when no one is around to listen.
He also spends a lot of time talking about the carillon itself to patients and visitors who request tours.
"There's a quote from that first carillonneur, and he said he thought it was the image of the Mayos to bring peace and comfort to both visitors and residents of the town from the music that would flow from this tower." Daehn said.
"I think that was a good thought."
Daehn tries to fulfill that mission by playing songs visitors and residents will recognize, and, he says, patriotic and holiday tunes are always among the favorites.