Farris, an accomplished organist who holds a master’s of music degree from the school of music at University of Michigan, has played a carillon recital at the Academy “just about every New Year’s Eve since 1985,” he says. “I first played the Academy carillon in 1985, after 23 years of not playing. A friend of mine who was a bride-to-be getting married in the Academy Chapel, insisted that I play the bells for her summer wedding—she wouldn’t take no for an answer. I had two months to prepare and sharpen my carillonneur skills.”
When asked why he continues to play recitals on the Academy carillon year after year, for the last 25 years, Farris simply states, “It’s such a beautiful carillon and it is a privilege for me to play it. It’s an outstanding instrument and I just enjoy making music.”
The carillon’s history is as unique as it is impressive. Now 50 bells, the original carillon, made in 1926, comprised 43 bells. The bells range in size from the 10-pound G-bell to the 7,168-pound B-flat bell. The 20 largest bells bear inscriptions from Latin, English and American poems. The bronze bells, cast by the firm of Gillett and Johnston of Croydon in England, were the gift of Henry B. Swoope, a member of Mercersburg’s Class of 1900, a Board member and parent, and namesake of the Academy’s Swoope Carillon. Melted into the bell’s ore are copper coins collected worldwide by alumni and friends of the school, as well as pieces of shells gathered by alumni from the fields of France during World War I; metal from the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides); Admiral Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory; and a shaving from the Liberty Bell. The bells hang in a stone-spired tower, 150 feet high. The spire is a replica of the spire of St. Mary the Virgin at Oxford, England, and is named for Bryan Barker, who served as the Academy’s second carillonneur from 1928 to 1981.