In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

March 7, 2019

Restored Carillon Means the Sound of Music Returns to Downtown Rochester

By In the Loop

The five-month restoration of the Plummer Building's carillon is now complete, which means Mayo Clinic carillonneur Austin Ferguson can get back to making music.


It's been a particularly long winter for those of us living in the Midwest. The snow. The cold. The snow. But perhaps no one has been more eager for winter to pass than Mayo Clinic carillonneur Austin Ferguson. Since September, his favorite musical instrument has been in hibernation mode while undergoing a major — and much needed — restoration.

But late last month, Austin and the Plummer Building's new and improved carillon were reunited and can once again fill downtown Rochester with a sound that Mayo patients and staff have come to love. And Austin couldn't be happier. "It's been actually frustrating in terms of not having a creative outlet to be able to utilize for so long," he tells KIMT3 News.

Austin tells KIMT having the carillon out of commission throughout last fall and much of this (never-ending) winter wasn't all bad. "I've gotten a lot of administrative work done," he says. "I've completely reorganized and catalogued two libraries worth of carillon music."

The carillon’s mechanical action is housed in a new, custom-built frame.

Now that crews from Mayo Clinic and Belgium have finished restoring Mayo's 90-year-old carillon, however, Austin tells us he's as ready to rock as his shiny and much-better-sounding instrument. "The CliffsNotes version I tell people is we kept the bells, we kept the keyboard, and replaced everything else," he says.

That "everything else" includes raising the original frame 5 1/2 feet, which Austin says "allowed us to upgrade the playing mechanism and make it easier for folks to hear the music from the ground." It also cleared the way for the restoration's second and third phases, which included building the new framework, re-mounting and reinforcing the bells, and finally, "putting everything back together" again.

A major undertaking to be sure, but Austin tells us knowing the carillon's playing days have now been extended "by 40 or 50 years" is a trade-off that was worth the wait. "I'm no longer worried about things breaking, because everything's new and secured in place," he says.

Austin tells us he has big plans for Mayo Clinic's musical future. "This summer will be the first of our annual summer recitals," he says. "On the second Saturday in May, June and July, we're going to have guest performers come in and play so people can hear someone who's not me."

Jokes aside, this new summer concert series is in addition to Austin's regular playing schedule of "every day at 4:45 p.m., Mondays at 7 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at noon." And while we can't be sure, we think it's probably what Drs. Will and Charlie Mayo had in mind when they donated the original 23 carillon bells to Mayo Clinic in 1928. "The Mayo brothers were very forward-thinking in terms of the role music and the arts play in the healing process and the overall hospital experience," Austin says. "I know if I was a patient here, I'd feel very fortunate to hear the carillon play."

You can see and hear more of Austin here. Then give us something to see by sharing your comments below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.


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Tags: Austin Ferguson, carillon, Community, Employee Stories, History & Heritage, Mayo Clinic in Rochester

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