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Winning the ‘Olympics’ of the carillon

July 16, 2019
Alex Johnson standing behind a practice carillonAlex Johnson ’19, beside the practice carillon in Dewey Hall. The recent graduate is the winner of the 2019 Queen Fabiola Carillon Competition. (University photo by J. Adam Fenster)

Last Sunday, Alex Johnson ’19 won first place in the prestigious international Queen Fabiola Carillon Competition, an event held every five years at the Royal Carillon School in Mechlin, Belgium.

“Pure joy and elation,” he says, describing his initial reaction.

Doris Aman, Johnson’s former mentor and coordinator of the University’s Carillon Society, describes the Queen Fabiola competition as the equivalent of top global competitions in violin or piano, or the Olympics in athletics.

“It’s a global music festival, having tremendous respect amongst carillon professionals,” she says.

She adds that she is she’s “still reeling” from the result.

“My first reaction was to scream, shake my head, and jump up and down. I’m completely blown away.”

WATCH AND LISTEN: Alex Johnson ’19 and his winning performance at the Queen Fabiola Carillon Competition. (Rudi Van Poele video)

Johnson, who is studying at the Royal Carillon School this year on a Belgian-American Educational Foundation (BAEF) fellowship, was one of 16 candidates—from Australia to Russia and the United States—who registered for the competition.

He had never touched a carillon, a musical instrument comprised of bells, before taking a tour of the University of Rochester’s River Campus during high school.

While at Rochester, the Coppell, Texas, native and physics major mentored and played in the Carillon Society, was a member of ensembles with the Department of Music and the Eastman School of Music, and won the University’s 2019 Charles Zettek Carillon Composition Award.

He also spent a semester studying physics and music at the University of Sydney, Australia, before returning to the United States this past spring for a fellowship with Geert D’hollander, a world renowned carillonist, in Lake Wales, Florida.

Johnson was also offered a Fulbright US student grant to study carillon performance in Belgium but chose the BAEF fellowship.


close up of hands playing the wooden hammers of the carillon

READ MORE: Carillon strikes a chord for senior physics major

With a major in physics and a minor in music, Alex Johnson ’19 is heading to Belgium after graduation to learn more about “the bells” that inspired him in Rochester. “Lots of deciding to do. There isn’t a wrong decision.

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Category: The Arts

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