Wendell Westcott, 1911-2010:
Statement by the Michigan State University College of Music (May 2010)
The MSU College of Music was saddened to learn of the death last week of Wendell J. Westcott, professor emeritus of piano and the university carillonneur from 1941 to 1987.
"Many thousands of MSU students and faculty over several generations have enjoyed the traditions and music of the Beaumont Tower carillon,” says Jim Forger, dean of the College of Music. “They probably did not know it was Wendell Westcott who brought the carillon alive for them. We will miss this talented and devoted teacher and performer whose long service to MSU touched many lives.”
“Wendell was highly respected and justifiably famous for his romantic playing style and his arrangements of popular and folk tunes for the carillon,” says current university carilloneur Ray McLellan. “I so appreciated his support of our carillon recitals by his faithful attendance.”
A tribute recital will be played by McLellan on the Beaumont Tower carillon on Wednesday, July 14, at 6:00 p.m. as part of the Muelder Summer Carillon Series.
The family provided the following obituary:
“Wendell Westcott, renowned carillonneur at MSU's Beaumont Tower and beloved community figure, passed away at home on April 30, 2010, surrounded by family. Wendell was born on January 20, 1911, in Jackson, Michigan, where he soon established himself as a child prodigy at the piano. By age 14, he was the assistant organist at the Methodist Church in Jackson. Because of his remarkable abilities, he was admitted to the Michigan State University School of Music on full scholarship, where he studied piano and eventually received his M.A.
"With the advent of World War II, Wendell enlisted in the U. S. Army and was stationed in Cairo, Egypt, where he served as accompanist to an Army chaplain. Upon returning from the war, he served as a professor in the MSU music department, where he taught piano. In the early 1950s, the head of the department asked Wendell if he would be interested in playing the carillon in Beaumont Tower. Wendell accepted the offer and soon established a reputation in the East Lansing community for his wonderful playing. In 1956, Wendell attended the Royal Carillon School in Mechelin, Belgium, where he pursued an advanced degree in the carillon. There he earned highest honors for playing and composition, an unprecedented achievement. He then returned to MSU, where he continued to teach piano and carillon until his retirement.
"Though Wendell is known primarily for his carillon playing, he was particularly proud of his creation of the Spartan Bell Ringers in the mid-1950s. The Spartan Bell Ringers was a hand bell group that Wendell forged into a human carillon, able to perform musical pieces with great speed and complexity. The routine they developed was tremendously popular, and the group subsequently toured all over the United States, even performing for Vice President Richard Nixon at a White House tree-lighting ceremony. In 1970 Wendell published Bells and Their Music, a book that is still considered the authoritative work on the subject. He also wrote articles on bells and bell ringing for Encyclopedia Britannica. In recent decades, Wendell delighted MSU students, East Lansing residents, and visitors to the MSU campus with his free carillon concerts at Beaumont Tower. It became an MSU tradition for students and families to lounge on the campus lawns and listen to his music. Wendell also delighted fans by inviting them into Beaumont Tower, where they climbed the winding stairs, signed the guest book, and watched him play the carillon. Wendell loved these interactions with the public, and he was instrumental in the restoration and rededication of Beaumont Tower and its carillon in 1996.
"At age 93, Wendell played the carillon for members of the National Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, who were specially bused to MSU from an Ann Arbor convention. There, surrounded by the most accomplished carillonneurs in the country, Wendell gave an impeccable virtuoso performance. Wendell continued play the carillon at Beaumont Tower until the age of 96 when vertigo made it impossible for him to ascend the stairs. He credited that daily ascent, however, with his extraordinary health, vigor, and longevity. After Wendell retired from carillon playing, he continued to play the piano at his home for four hours a day until his hearing failed at the age of 97. He passed away at the age of 99.
"Wendell was preceded in death by his daughter, Alicia, in 1994. He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Iris. He is also survived by his daughter Gina, his son-in-law David, and his two grandchildren, Rebekah and Michael. In New York, he is survived by son-in-law Bryan, and two grandchildren, Hester and Gretchen. There are also three great-grandchildren, Andrew, Delilah, and Levi. Wendell Westcott was an icon in the Greater Lansing community and an international figure in the world of carillon. He will be remembered with fondness by friends, colleagues, and generations of adoring fans."
Family will receive friends on Tuesday, May 4, at Gorsline Runciman East Chapel, 1730 East Grand River Avenue, East Lansing, from 1:00-2:00 p.m. and services will follow at 2:00 p.m. with Pastor Ed Reynolds of Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Lansing officiating."