Annie Gao’s Serenade in Blue (Yale)

It was on a whim, during the orientation of freshmen in 2017, that Annie Gao visited the Yale Memorial Carillon, located in the Harkness Tower. The experience sparked four years of “ringing” joy.

Intrigued by the carillon, which consists of an organ-shaped console and 54 bells, Gao then attended a hearing briefing for the Yale Guild of Carillonneurs, the student organization responsible for playing of the famous instrument. At the meeting, veteran carillonneurs played two practice instruments to provide an impression of the sound of the carillon.

The ringtone envelops you and it’s magic, ”said Gao, a resident of Branford College. “I got lost in it.”

Gao, who played the piano throughout his childhood, devoted himself to learning the carillon. She took advantage of the free lessons offered by the guild. Then she underwent a five-week audition and was accepted into the 26-member guild.

It was the start of the best part of my life at Yale, ”said Gao, an IT specialist, who will start a job in Silicon Valley after graduation.

Gao playing the carillon.

Following the audition, she received continuing education from Ellen Dickinson ’97, ’99 MUS, director of bell programs at Yale and a longtime teacher to guild members. The carillon console includes a wooden stick keyboard associated with a pedal board. Carillonneurs press the keys with their fists while their feet shake the pedals.

It’s definitely an entertaining coordination challenge, ”said Gao.

She practiced in her spare time throughout her second and third years, often searching the guild’s vast sheet music files for new pieces to master. Guild members sound the chimes twice a day, at 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Each 30-minute serenade on campus gives the carillonneurs enough time to play about six songs, Gao explained.

She has created arrangements for pop songs, such as “You Raise Me Up”. She also performed a traditional Chinese folk song and some hit songs from Disney movies.

People listen when you play something they recognize, ”she says. “It makes them happy, or less bored if you wake them up after a nap.”

Among his repertoire of recognizable melodies, Gao enjoyed playing an arrangement of variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” a soothing lullaby for undergraduates.

COVID-19 denied Gao the opportunity to visit Europe with the guild. There was a positive side: this spring the guild hosted renowned European carillonneurs for a series of masterclasses.

It was awesome, ”Gao said.

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