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America’s First Vocarillon Recital

It’s a busy Friday afternoon, and many of us are eagerly anticipating the 5:00 PM ringing of the Duke Chapel carillon. Then, university carillonneur J. Samuel Hammond will play Dear Old Duke to send us off for two days of rest and relaxation.

On this day in 1939, though, the carillon drew 5,000 people to campus on a drizzly evening, as then-university carillonneur Anton Brees and visiting mezzo-soprano Mary Frances Lehnerts prepared to perform what Duke’s Alumni Register termed “America’s first vocarillon recital.”

The vocarillon concert (voice + carillon=vocarillon) was an innovation that Brees had brought with him from his native Antwerp, where he (and his father before him) served as carillonneur of that city’s cathedral. Brees, who gave the carillon’s inaugural performance as part of the 1932 commencement celebrations, spent his summers at Duke–he spent the remainder of the year as carillonneur at the Bok Singing Tower in Lake Wales, Florida–presenting popular weekly carillon concerts that drew visitors from all over the area.

A view of the crowd at the 1939 vocarillon concert.
A view of the crowd at the 1939 vocarillon concert.

On that August night in 1939, the concert-going crowd filled West Campus’s quadrangles, spilling all the way down Chapel Drive. Lehnerts sang five pieces, accompanied by Brees on the carillon, from the Chapel’s balcony, some 175 feet above her audience. The Durham Morning Herald reported that she “sang with no more effort than would be required in a small concert hall,” and yet concertgoers sitting by Few Quadrangle could hear her clearly.

Mary Frances Lehnerts performs during the 1939 vocarillon concert.
Mary Frances Lehnerts performs during the 1939 vocarillon concert.

In between each of Lehnerts’s performances, Brees played solo pieces for the carillon. Here’s the evening’s program:

  • America (for carillon)
  • Somewhere a Voice is Calling by Arthur Tate (for voice and carillon)
  • Maryland, My Maryland (for carillon)
  • Homing by Teresa del Riego (for voice and carillon)
  • Gavotte in G minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (for carillon)
  • Holy Night by Franz Gruber (for voice and carillon)
  • I Can Hear My Savior Calling by Philip P. Bliss (for carillon)


  • Only a Rose by Rudolph Friml (for voice and carillon)
  • Roses of Picardy by Haydn Wood (for voice and carillon)
  • Moonlight and Roses by Edwin Lamare (for voice and carillon)
  • The Last Rose of Summer by Friedrich von Flotow (for voice and carillon)
  • The Old Refrain by Fritz Kreisler (for carillon)
  • Dear Old Duke by R. H. James (for carillon)

Yes, that many encores. We wish we could have been there.

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