New DU Carillonist Shares Bells’ Richness, Complexity–& Takes Requests
When the University of Denver’s new carillonist Joey Brink saw the bell tower and heard the carillon played for the first time as a high school senior touring Yale University, he was all in.
“I fell for it really hard,” he recalled. “The overtones and the depths of even a single low bell carry so much richness and complexity. When you play a melody, it makes you feel something inside that you can invite so many people to hear and connect to.”
Long interested in both music and engineering, Brink chose the latter as the more practical major at Yale while indulging his passion for the carillon by joining the undergraduate extracurricular organization where carillon is taught, practiced and performed at Yale.
By the time he graduated with an engineering degree, he’d passed a professional carillon certification with the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America and decided to take a gap year before pursuing a graduate degree in engineering. In 2012, he attended the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" in Mechelen, Belgium, where he was immersed in all aspects of carillon and graduated with greatest distinction.
Back in the states, Brink started a PhD program in mechanical engineering at The University of Utah and became a professional carillonist on the side, traveling to play summer concerts.
When he later became the first American to win the international Queen Fabiola Competition for carillon in Belgium, requests for concerts started pouring in. His confidence bolstered; Brink traded graduate school to give a career as a carillonist a shot.
Brink soon landed a seven-year stint as a full-time carillonist at the University of Chicago, an institution that boasts the second largest carillon in the world and a long history of carillon education and performance. Over the years, he distinguished himself as an award-winning carillon composer of music he describes as “blurring the lines between jazz and impressionism.”
When DU’s long-time carillonist and Brink’s friend and colleague Carol Jickling Lens decided to retire, Brink welcomed the opportunity to step into the role. He had performed as a guest in 2013, 2015 and 2021, and savored the unique craftsmanship, light touch, range and distinct tones of DU’s grand carillon.
Brink relished the chance to move to Colorado. “My wife and I loved the mountains when we lived in Utah and are big outdoor enthusiasts,” he said.
Brink assumed a part-time carillonist position, enabling him to spend more time with the couple’s two young children, in fall quarter 2022 and plans to teach up to 10 students through the Lamont School of Music beginning in winter quarter. He’s already busy performing weekdays during academic quarters, Monday through Friday, 11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m., and enjoys playing song requests submitted online.
“I’ll play any genre I can find sheet music for,” he said, noting that he often performs popular, familiar tunes. On the day of our interview, requests included Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” and the often requested “Lord of the Rings.” When he decides to play a request, Brink invites the person who submitted it up to the tower to watch.
“When somebody hears a song that they recognize it pulls them out of whatever head space they’re in,” he said. “If they pay attention for a moment, they may also pay attention to other songs they’re not familiar with.”
Brink continues to marvel over the campuswide accessibility provided by DU’s carillon, located in the Williams Tower outside the Ritchie Center.
“It’s in a location where a lot of students can hear a melody in their dorms, walking to class,” he said. “There are some really lovely, protected spaces like the Whisper Garden just south of the tower where you can sit and listen without a lot of background noise.”
Something about the idea of making music from massive bells in a tower that everybody around can hear continues to inspire and intrigue him. “I love the irony that it’s the most public of instruments and yet you’re anonymous,” he said.
Bundle up to join members of the DU community for the annual, open-air Holiday Carillon Concert with performances by Brink, Jickling Lens and local carillon players Sunday, Dec. 11, 3 p.m., on the lawn just south of the Ritchie Center.