Farmers sometimes speak of a strange phenomenon that occurs in the countryside beyond Concord University. The ringing of the school’s 48-bell carillon, often no more than a distant melody, swells to a thunderous intensity far from its source when the weather is cold. The effect can be haunting.
Caused by air inversion, which magnifies sound traveling over the fields west of the New River, the circumstances here are not precisely understood, though it’s likely Dr. Joseph F. Marsh, Jr., who gifted the bells to Concord, knew of it.
The son of a former Concord president who became a Concord president himself, Marsh was living on Faculty Hill in 1995 as president emeritus when he announced that he would provide the school what was then its largest gift — the financing necessary to build a world-class carillon (pronounced CARE-ILL-AHN) and a bell-tower tall and massive enough to carry its peals across the landscape.
Cast and tuned by Paccard Founderie de Cloches et Carillons, of Annecy, France, assembled into a carillon by Bergen Bellfounderies, of Charleston, S.C., the bells were hung in a tower designed by Kreps & Kreps, of Charleston, W.Va., and raised by Swope Construction Co., of Bluefield.
It has been said that Dr. Marsh had been moved as a youth by carillons in Europe and at Dartmouth University, his alma mater, though in any case he was willing to wholly fund the $750,000 monument that now rises from the front of Marsh Hall.
Dedicated in 1997, the carillon is one of the nation’s few “concert carillons,” qualified as having at least 47 bells and a range of four or more octaves. Its bells range from a 29-pound instrument only seven-inches high to 2.96-ton bourdon more than 36 inches high.
Concord President Kendra S. Boggess says the carillon continues to be a chief attraction on the campus, inspiring students and faculty as well as residents of the town of Athens and attracting visitors from afar.
“The Marsh Memorial Carillon has certainly become an icon on the campus at Concord University,” Boggess said. “The melodies can be heard all over campus and throughout the town of Athens most days.”
Performed regularly throughout the year, concerts led by guest carillonneurs are supplemented by 15-minute daily concerts that regularly attract tourists the campus and southern West Virginia.
“A lot of folks look forward to the afternoon concerts and the seasonal music the carillon plays, and we have guest carillonneurs, occasionally, that draw visitors to our campus from all over the country.”
Traditionally, daily concerts are performed in the afternoons, though visitors should call the school at 800-344-6679 to determine times, which change seasonally.
Established in 1872 as a college for teachers at “Concord Church,” now Athens, the school was founded by veterans of both the Union and the Confederacy, named “concord” for the ideal of harmony and fellowship.
Concord today is one of the Mountain State’s leading liberal-arts universities, renowned for its excellent business, arts-and-sciences, teacher education, and pre-professional programs.