Fanfare for The Plumb Memorial Carillon

By Barbara Sternal, Processing Archivist

Every summer, people from around Hartford and beyond gather on the Trinity College quad to listen to the concerts performed on the Plumb Memorial Carillon, located in the tower of the College’s Chapel. The carillon is an instrument played on a keyboard of wooden batons that sound a set of at least 23 large bells. Trinity’s carillon has over double that number, namely 49 bells. Responsible for the bell ringing heard on campus, the carillon also provides music for concerts and events throughout the year.

The carillon was donated to the school in 1927 and, at that point, consisted of 30 bells. It was gifted by the Reverend and Mrs. John F. Plumb in honor of their son, John Landon Plumb, a member of the class of 1926 who died during his senior year. The bells were installed in the chapel tower in 1931, a year after construction began on the chapel. In 1973, Trinity College received a gift of $25,000 from the estate of historian, author, and Hartford resident Florence Crofut, who left the money specifically for the expansion of Trinity’s carillon. Five years later, in 1978, 19 bells were added and eight were replaced, bringing the total number of bells to 49. The increase in bells gave the carillon a four and a half octave range, allowing it to accommodate most existing carillon compositions. Previously, the carillon had had a three and a half octave range, which had limited the musical pieces that could be played on it–most carillon music is written in four octaves.

Plumb Memorial Carillon during the construction of the Chapel in 1931. (Trinity College Archives)

The carillon is played by Trinity College’s carillonneur, Ellen Dickinson, who has been in that position for 14 years. One of Trinity’s first carillonneurs was Remsen Ogilby, president of Trinity College from 1920 to 1943. In 1934, Ogilby invited other carillonneurs from the United States and Canada to meet at Trinity College. This meeting is now recognized as the first congress of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, of which Dickinson is a member.

President Remsen Ogilby playing the carillon ca. 1934. (Trinity College Archives)

Since 1949, Trinity has held free carillon concerts on the quad, during which attendees can hear carillonneurs from all over the world play the Plumb Memorial Carillon. This year featured guest carillonneurs from Norway, The Netherlands, Illinois, and California.

Cover of the program from the 2023 carillon concerts. (Trinity College Archives)

On July 12, Trinity hosted a Bicentennial Concert which featured Christopher Houlihan ’09, John Rose College Organist and Directorship Distinguished Chair of Chapel Music and Artist-in-Residence on the organ and Ellen Dickinson on the carillon. Dickinson started by playing Fanfare 1823, a piece that Trinity commissioned Dickinson to write for Trinity’s Bicentennial celebration in 2023.

Musical selections played by Ellen Dickinson at the Bicentennial Carillon Concert on July 12, 2023. (Trinity College Archives)
Bicentennial Concert on July 12, 2023. (Photo credit: Barbara Sternal)

Though the summer concerts have come to a close, lunchtime carillon and organ concerts have resumed and the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival is scheduled for the fall. These events are open to the public and free to attend.

Programming is below:

Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival Hartford
Friday, September 22, 2023
7:30 p.m. Concert
Saturday, September 23, 2023
10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. High School Division Competition
7:30 p.m. Concert

Lunchtime Thursdays
October 5, 2023
November 2, 2023

12:10 to 12:40 p.m. Carillon Concert
12:45 to 1:15 p.m. Organ Recital

The Trinity College Archives contains a number of materials related to the history of the Plumb Memorial Carillon, including printed programs and flyers related to the carillon concert series, as well as correspondence involving the construction, repair, and use of the carillon by students and professional carilloneurs. These materials are available at the Watkinson Library for public use and research during scheduled research appointments between the hours of 10 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1-4 p.m. on Tuesdays through Thursdays. Please contact College Archivist and Manuscript Librarian Eric Stoykovich ( for more information and to make an appointment to access collections in the Trinity College Archives.

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