Carillonneur Larry Robinson at work. Sarah Walor photos
As bell-ringer-in-chief, Larry Robinson strikes the keyboard and pounds the floor pedals that make a thunderous melody flow from the 53 bells at the top of Richmond's Carillon tower. The heavy chiming reverberates through Byrd Park below. Yet, says Robinson, "It's amazing how many people in Richmond don't seem to know much about [the Carillon]."
At this year's Fourth of July Extravaganza in Dogwood Dell, Robinson, who says he's old enough to know better than to disclose his age, celebrates his 50th anniversary ringing the bells. He is scheduled to play at 6:45 p.m.
The carillon ("bells" in French) is housed in a 240-foot tower; thanks to its location, it's the highest elevation in Richmond. It probably has the best breeze in the city.
The only way to the top is a rickety 1931 elevator. "It has broken down," Robinson casually says as he slams the grated door shut. "But rarely."
Robinson began playing as an assistant to then-carillonneur Wyatt Insko in 1960. Two years later, Insko moved to Chicago, and Robinson took the title of city carillonneur.
He is especially looking forward to the grand finale at this year's Fourth of July production. As soon as he finishes the 1812 Overture , Robinson will run up the spiral staircase to the balcony of the tower to stand face-to-face with the fireworks. "Nobody sees them the way I see them. … If the wind's coming the wrong way, I even get ashes on myself."
After half a century as city carillonneur, does Robinson plan to retire after this year?
Not a chance.
"I just wanted to commemorate the 50 years, but that doesn't mean I'm disappearing after that."