Behind the bells with Marquette's carillonneur

He works high up in the sky but he's not a pilot. He performs twice per week but he's not an actor. So what is he? 

Every Tuesday and Wednesday Mark Konewko rises from his desk and heads north, straight upwards, several flights higher than anyone else in this Marquette University building. It's a journey into a small room where the first order of business is to open windows for better sound.

Then it's showtime. Mark is Marquette's Carillonneur, playing in the bell tower. Outside you can hear his music for blocks. Inside, the view goes down Wisconsin Avenue. The bells are majestic, the job unbelievably rare. Only two people in the state of Wisconsin are known to have the skills that Mark has.

He plays for about 30 minutes twice each week. These are not the on-the-hour bells that denote time. Those are automated. Mark is anything but.

"I adjust for the weather and what's happening, if there's a national tragedy or a national celebration," says Konewko. "For Halloween I played the theme from the Addams Family and I heard that everyone walked around going da-da-da-da-snap snap."

The Chicago native has loved anything musical since he was a child. He also conducts the chorus and teaches music at Marquette. The art of carillon came from a professor.

"When he played I was just totally transfixed."

At the age of 61, he has no plans to stop. In fact, his predecessor, the only other Carillonneur in Marquette's history, played until the day he died. So the next time you hear a concert coming from the bell tower know that it's Mark, and know that you're likely to enjoy a bit of school spirit in the finale.

"I usually end with the Marquette fight song and anthem," says Konewko.

When his playing time is over he turns out the lights, but he'll be back soon.

"I never thought I'd be doing this. I'm very blessed, I had excellent teachers and wonderful opportunities."

He does take requests and he is trying to groom the next generation of carillonneurs. The only other one in the state works at the UW-Madison bell tower. If you're interested in learning more about how the carillon works, check out our web extra below as he explains the keys and notes.

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