During the research process, I discovered that First-Plymouth Church was one of Lincoln’s first places of worship. I knew that part of its unique history was the fact that the campus includes one of only two carillon towers found in the United States. I was encouraged to take a tour, and I was so thankful that Mrs. Johnson was willing to show me around.

What I did not think about is the fact that getting up to the tower would require some effort. I do not mind climbing stairs, but these are at a whole new level. Feeling a bit unsteady, I kept watching my feet. Despite being in her sixties, Mrs. Johnson was not phased at all at the thought of having to extend her legs over open air to the carillon room. She informed me that once everyone played in the open air. Frost would often form. Now at least the instrument is inside a small climate-controlled room.

For many years, Mrs. Ray Johnson has been the one in charge of playing the carillon bells. The process is similar to an organ as far as how it is played. Rather than using fingers, the pedals are struck with fists.  Stamina is required as well as patience to learn how to convert songs to this unique application.

Watching Mrs. Ray Johnson play the carillon bells fascinated me. She is so talented. And I loved the fact that the Johnsons’ love story started in this very tower.  Her late husband played this instrument for years for the church.  She still plays several times a month.

This is view of what the bells look like when they are being played.  If you will notice, the bells do not really move. Only the strikers move.

Mrs. Johnson has also compiled more about the tower’s history. Interested in knowing more? Please read this article found on the First-Plymouth Church Website.

P.S. In the middle of the afternoon on September 24, 2019, Lincoln was treated to a Carillon tower concert debut.  At least those within a few miles of the church would have heard a new song played on the giant bell system. The piece? “Doe A Deer.” The artist? Gretchen M. Garrison. While I may not ever play this majestic instrument again, I did enjoy giving it a try. Despite taking years of piano lessons, trying to play the carillon requires many levels of musical abilities.

Author: neodyssey

My name is Gretchen Garrison. I started this blog about Nebraska in 2013. So far, I have written three books about Nebraska and Lincoln.