Almost every weekday for nearly 100 years, the massive bells of the Mayo Clinic's carillon have rung in song from the tower of the Plummer Building in downtown Rochester.
Now they can be heard around the world via livestream. A new webcam features carillonneur Austin Ferguson playing from his perch in the sky as microphones in the bell tower pick up his performance.
"I'm glad that people are able to tune in," said Ferguson.
When Ferguson, who became Mayo's fourth carillonneur in 2017, plays the bells, he sits at what looks like a piano — a clavier keyboard console that has two rows of keys called batons and a pedalboard below.
The keys and pedals connect to clappers inside the bells to make them sound. The music resonates several blocks away from the tower.
Ferguson, who first played a carillon as a kid during summer organ camp at Texas' Baylor University ("because I was really cool and not nerdy at all"), isn't used to having an audience.
"I get horrible stage fright performing — except on the carillon, because people can't see you, typically," he said.
But he's getting used to having a camera in the 20th-floor tower.
"Even with this, I can't see the audience so it doesn't bother me at all," he said.
To connect with his unseen audience, he takes song requests using an online form. Aside from "Happy Birthday," "Amazing Grace" is the most frequent, he said.
He likes playing folk songs, which is in keeping with the carillon's beginnings.
"The instrument is about 500 years old, give or take," he said "and in its origins in the Low Countries of Europe, the Netherlands, Belgium, parts of France, it was kind of the music of market days."
Ringing from towns' bell towers, carillon song "was just kind of the soundtrack of daily life," he said.
Mayo's 40,000-pound carillon, which has 56 tuned bronze bells, has been a part of the campus since 1928. In 2019, it was almost completely reconstructed.
There are fewer than 200 of the massive instruments in North America. Most are typically found in the towers of church or school buildings, according to the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. Mayo is the only medical center in North America that has a carillon.
Brothers Charles and William Mayo bought it as part of the clinic's mission to harness the healing power of arts.
Now, the carillon webcam, which went live this month, shows Ferguson at his bench, while eight weather-protected microphones record the bells' tones from inside the tower and stream them online.
Ferguson plays every weekday at 4:45 p.m., as well as Mondays at 7 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at noon.
"The most rewarding part of this job is getting feedback from patients, that the one small thing that you're doing, kind of removed from the rest of the clinic, makes such a big impact on people," he said.