Charles Baird Carillon

The 12-ton bourdon bell, nicknamed “Big Baird.”

The Charles Baird Carillon, third heaviest in the world, contains 53 bells cast in 1936 by the John Taylor & Co. Bellfoundry in Loughborough, England. The largest bell, which strikes the hour, weighs 12 tons, and the smallest bell, 4 1/2 octaves higher, weighs 15 pounds. In 2011, the carillon underwent a complete restoration, returning the original highest two octaves of bells and the original clavier.

Charles Baird, the University of Michigan’s first athletic director, donated the carillon. The tower, built with funds donated by many, is named for former U-M president Marion Leroy Burton. The tower and carillon were dedicated in 1936.

In celebration of the University of Michigan’s 200th year, the floodlights on Burton Tower have been replaced with a new system that illuminates the tower and its carillon from within, with more than 100 LED bulbs that can be programmed in various colors.

The University of Michigan added a second carillon in 1996. The Ann and Robert H. Lurie Carillon (60 bells) is located on the North Campus.


The Westminster Quarters

This melody is played daily on five of the Charles Baird Carillon bells, each quarter hour from 9:15 AM until 9:00 PM. The first downloadable audio file contains the last part of the hour strike melody and the bourdon (largest, 12-ton) bell striking the hour twice. The second downloadable audio file contains the complete Westminster Quarters and twelve strikes at noon. Both files are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License and may be used for any purpose.

Clock chime (.MOV sound-only file)
Complete Westminster Quarters with chime (.WAV file)

Thirty-minute recitals are performed on the Charles Baird Carillon at noon every weekday that classes are in session, followed by visitor Q&A with the carillonist from 12:30-12:45 pm. There are no recitals on campus holidays, study days, or final examination days. A Google Calendar of recitalists is available here.

The bell chamber may be accessed via a combination of elevator and stairs. Take the elevator to the highest floor possible (floor 8), and then climb two flights of stairs (39 steps) to the bell chamber (floor 10). Earplugs are available from the carillonist upon request. Be prepared to walk on ice and snow in the bell chamber during winter.

Built in 1936, the Charles Baird Carillon is not ADA accessible. Visitors with mobility difficulties are invited to visit the ADA-accessible Lurie Carillon.

A carillon is a musical instrument consisting of at least two octaves of bells arranged in a chromatic series and played from a keyboard that permits control of expression through variations of touch. A carillon bell is a cast bronze cup-shaped bell whose overtones are in such harmonious relationship to each other as to permit multiple bells to be sounded together.

The carillon developed in the area of Europe that is now the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. There are over 180 carillons in North America, and new ones are installed every year.

The carillon keyboard, located in a small room at the center of the bell chamber, is connected to the bells via a system of wires, levers, and springs. To play the bells, the carillonist uses loosely-closed fists to push down wooden keys, which are arranged like the keys of a piano keyboard. The lowest bells may also be played from a pedal keyboard. No electricity is required for the functioning of this system.

Current students interested in carillon lessons: please visit the carillon studio page.


Land Acknowledgement

The Department of Organ acknowledges that Burton Memorial Tower and its carillon physically and sonically occupy land stewarded by Niswi Ishkodewan Anishinaabeg—the Three Fires People, who are the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi—along with their neighbors the Seneca, Delaware, Shawnee, and Wyandot nations. We further acknowledge that our university stands, like almost all property in the United States, on lands obtained, generally in unconscionable ways, from Indigenous peoples. We recognize Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Native Nations, historic Indigenous communities in Michigan, Indigenous individuals and communities who live here now, and those who were forcibly removed from their homelands. In offering this land acknowledgement, we affirm Indigenous sovereignty, history, and experiences.