Marcy-Holmes rings in new festival for students and residents


The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association is hosting a new music festival to bring together residents, University of Minnesota students and other members of the community.

The River Bells Music Festival will feature live music, dancing, free food and a bike parade outside the First Congregational Church of Minnesota the first week in May.

The festival will feature folk, blues and classical music, but centers around the carillon — collectively, the bells in the First Congregational tower.

“The carillon is a very old and sort of communal practice,” said Randall Davidson, a composer who lives in the neighborhood and will be performing his pieces on the carillon at the festival.

Because actual church bells are extremely expensive, most churches — including First Congregational — have moved to electronic carillons, Davidson said.

“There’s still this idea that the bells are for community,” he said. “They create a sound environment around a church or around wherever the bells are.”

University students Jordan Werre and Jason Gades have created computer-generated compositions to play through the First Congregational Church’s carillon speakers during the festival.

Werre, a music and math double major, said electronically composing the carillon music was daunting but also liberating because it removes the layers of interpretation between composer, performer and audience.

“I don’t have to create a score that necessarily communicates how a piece needs to be played by performers,” Werre said. “The time between composition and performance is taken down.”

Since a traditional carillon is played manually one note at a time, the electronic software allows for musical exploration, Werre said.

“What is humanly possible to be played on a carillon has been thrown out,” he said. “So it has grown into something that is new and cool to explore.”

Gades, a music major whose primary instrument is saxophone, was drawn to the musical possibilities of computer-producing.

“The carillon is an interesting instrument I think,” Gades said. “There’s some unique opportunities you have with it, because we can use other sounds with it as well.”

The compositions will play through the carillon speakers during the festival, but singers and other instruments may accompany them, Davidson said.

“It’s a way to have a little neighborhood groove,” he said. “Anybody can come.”

Support for the festival comes from a $5,000 TCF Bank Stadium Good Neighbor Fund grant, which was created after the building of the stadium, said Mercedes Tuma-Hansen, coordinator for the festival.

“Essentially I think it’s kind of their penance for creating this big, obtrusive thing … to try to offset that by making it a stronger community, too,” she said.

She said the festival aims to get more University students involved in the neighborhood for the long term.

“Hopefully this will create a little more stability and get residents to know students,” she said. “We’re hoping this will be an ongoing series.”