Each day on Michigan's Central and North Campuses, you can hear beautiful and stately bell tones, sometimes marking the time of day and sometimes marking the day or with a weekday concert. Tuesdays in July 2018, at noon you heard Michelle Lam, PhD student in Economics, playing gorgeous music at the Burton Bell Tower on U-M's central campus. With a varied repertoire, she energetically and passionately serenades those walking around campus and the State Street area of Ann Arbor. Playing with fists on batons and feet on pedals, music comes to life during a typical summer lunch hour.
Lam, who began her PhD studies in Economics in the fall 2016 term, has played the carillon periodically in weekly concert since she began, even choosing Michigan in part because of the opportunity to play a carillon. Lam said that the ability to play a carillon played a role in her PhD program choice, as well. Lam began playing carillon while pursuing her Bachelor's in mathematics and economics at Wellesley College, and continued on playing carillon in Washington, D.C. while working at the Federal Reserve Board between her undergraduate work and her PhD work. She plays at Burton Tower and Lurie Tower at Michigan, preferring the 1930's bells and their timbres of the Baird Carillon at Burton Tower.
During Lam's series of noon concerts, she invites her fellow PhD students, faculty and staff of the Economics department (as well as anyone else on campus who is interested) and thoroughly enjoys the visitors who come to the carillon. Lam plays various pieces, show how the bells are run, the set-up of the carillon, and history of the tower. She's animated in her description, eagerly showing off the beauty and history of the carillon and the bells. She even has visitors gather under one of the largest bells, a few tons in weight, to hear the bell as it's clapped and even encouraging visitors to gently push the clapper to strike the bell softly to get the sense of the effort involved.
Lam is a terrific instructor and guide, as well as an enthusiastic and exceptional musician. She plays a repertoire of music written specifically for carillon, a few that are arranged for carillon. It's a full-body experience to "play the bells," which are wooden bars that must be struck with fists, and the pedals tapped by the musician's feet, similar to those of an organ. Her enjoyment of the music is evident whether listening or watching, which is followed by only mild exhaustion from the work involved. Lam fully exhibits the effort and the enjoyment of this extracurricular activity.
Information on the carillon itself is on Michigan's website, along with the schedule of concerts and playlists either presented by Michelle Lam or any other of the carillon's musicians (Burton’s calendar is here, and Lurie’s calendar is here). PhD students like Lam are varied in their interests, their studies, and their outside activities. Although you may not think of a burgeoning economist is playing the Baird Carillon at Burton Tower, Michelle Lam may be the musician behind the music you're hearing at noon around campus.