Mysterious allure of the Princeton carillon

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West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South student is on a mission to reintegrate the carillon into the fabric of the community

Inspired by the enchanting melodies of the Princeton carillon, Gustavo Rangel Almirall, a junior at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, is on a mission to share its transformative musical power with Project Carillon, an initiative he launched aimed at revitalizing the appreciation for this unique instrument and its rich cultural heritage.

The carillon, an instrument played much like the piano that has a magnificent blend of organ and bells, possesses a resounding presence that captivates listeners. Weighing as much as 12,000 pounds, its notes can be heard up to a mile away. Princeton University’s carillon was a gift from the Class of 1892 and is the fifth largest in the United States.

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“It’s important for Princetonians to understand what the carillon is,” Almirall said, noting very few people know about the instrument, even though there are more than 170 carillons in the U.S.

“It’s been tied to Princeton’s heritage and brings a wonderful soundscape, making it one of the most important instruments in the Princeton area.”

Almirall’s journey began when he discovered the Princeton Carillon through a Facebook post shared by his mother. Intrigued by the instrument’s mysterious allure, he attended a Sunday concert at the Princeton University Graduation College in the Cleveland Tower. After hearing the song Walking On The Moon by the Police played on the carillon, he decided to learn more and start playing the carillon.

Through Project Carillon, Almirall aims to foster a deeper understanding of the carillon’s significance and its place within Princeton’s cultural tapestry. His vision extends beyond mere promotion; he strives to reintegrate the carillon into the fabric of the community. By organizing stands at community organizations such as the Historical Society of West Windsor, the Plainsboro Preserve, and multiple fairs in Cranbury, Almirall is sharing the beauty of the carillon with demonstrations of the carillon’s mechanisms, kid-friendly carillon design activities, and detailed information on the Princeton Carillon.

Photo Courtesy of Gustavo Rangel Almirall
Photo Courtesy of Gustavo Rangel Almirall
Photo Courtesy of Gustavo Rangel Almirall
Photo Courtesy of Gustavo Rangel Almirall

To make the carillon more accessible to a broader audience, Almirall intends to incorporate the instrument into educational curricula, enabling students to learn about its history and significance. His dream is to have the Princeton carillon recognized as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) joining the ranks of Europe’s celebrated belfries.

A native of Brazil who moved to central New Jersey when he was 10, Almirall sees Project Carillon as a way of giving back to his community.

“Princeton has welcomed me with not just open arms, but open hearts and open minds,” he said. “It has given me happiness, a sense of belonging, and I want to give my thanks through music that has a magical power over people’s well-being and mental health.”

Almirall’s passion for music extends beyond the carillon. As an accomplished pianist and guitarist, he actively participates in the jazz band and conducts the marching band at his high school. Despite the immense size and weight of the carillon, he remains committed to pursuing his musical endeavors and plans to keep music close to him throughout his life.

With the support of his family, the guidance of Lisa Lonie, the Princeton University Carillonneur, and the backing of his teachers, Almirall is determined to continue spreading the word about the carillon. He hopes to reignite interest in this unique instrument and ensure its legacy for future generations by raising awareness, preserving the carillon’s heritage, and promoting its free concerts at Princeton University, which are held every Sunday at 1 p.m.

For more information on Project Carillon and upcoming events, visit Almirall’s Instagram at @project_carillon, Facebook at Project Carillon, or contact him directly at carillongra@gmail.com.

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