Carillon is 'Crown Jewel' at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church

The 23-bell Gillett & Johnston carillon at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church was cast in Croydon, England beginning in 1925. It was installed the Detroit church in the fall of 1925.


The instrument - the oldest and smallest carillon in Michigan - was a gift of the Russel family. An inscription on the largest bell indicates the bells were presented to the “Jefferson Ave. Presbyterian Church, Detroit, in loving memory of Henry Russel by his wife Eleanor T. Russel, A.D. 1924.”


Native Detroiters familiar with the city’s history and its people have referred to this family as “the one ‘l’ Russels.”


The instrument at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church is described in early correspondence as a “chime.” By present standards, it is a carillon: a musical instrument composed of at least 23 carillon bells, arranged in chromatic sequence (with full and half tones), tuned to produce concordant harmony when many bells are sounded together. It is played manually from a keyboard and pedal board that allow expression through variation of touch.


The bronze  bells, oak keyboard, pedals and stand, plus a separate practice keyboard and their benches, all have been maintained in original condition. Many of the keys of the “real” keyboard are identified by tiny ivory numbers at the ends of the keys. The practice keyboard has a full set of 23 ivory pieces.


Total weight of the instrument is about 12,000 pounds. The largest bell, or “bourdon,” measures 48 inches in diameter and weighs 2,296 pounds. The bells are identified as two octaves, from bass C to high C. They actually are pitched a major third higher (E to E). This kind of  transposition is common among carillons. The purchase price of the bells was $9,600.


Correspondence between those with an interest in the project throughout the casting, testing and shipping reflects their excitement. One letter addressed to Dear Fred reads: “I went out to Croyden (sic) (England) yesterday (Aug. 11, 1925) and here is the dope. . .


“Mr. Cyril Johnston played some hymn tunes and chimes and I must say the bells were most tuneful. We saw all the methods of bell making, the moulds (sic), the castings, the clappers, the alloy made of copper and tin and methods of work. It was all interesting.”


Carillons were coming into vogue in the U.S. in the 1920s, and Gillett & Johnston was busy serving customers in the UK, on the Continent and in North America. Notable G & J carillon/chime installations that decade included the Peace Tower in Ottawa, and Soldiers’ Tower in Toronto, Canada; Princeton University in New Jersey, Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania; the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon Riverside Church in New York City; Beaumont Tower at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, and Rochester Carillon Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.


The carillon at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian is an important part of the life of the church and its neighborhood. It is played at Sunday worship services, for memorials, weddings, musical events and as a beautiful voice on other occasions for the benefit of the community. Jenny King has been carillonist at JAPC since the mid-1990s.

Carillon Series welcomes Jenny HyoJin Moon on Sunday, November 14, 4pm

Carillonist Jenna Moon will play the final program in our 2021 carillon series. Jenna HyoJin Moon earned her Doctoral degree in Sacred Music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor earlier this year. An avid carillon ambassador of diversity, she has performed over 95 weekday carillon recitals at the Lurie and Baird carillons. Moon received the 2021 MLK spirit award and was co-recipient of 2020 Sonic Scenographies research grant. Moon received the EXCEL Enterprise Fund for her project, highlighting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion through featuring works by composers of color. She studied organ performance and organ literature with Dr. James Kibbie, sacred music and hymn improvisation with Dr. Kola Owolabi, and carillon performance with Dr. Tiffany Ng and Dr. Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra.