A tale of two phalli

18 October 2023

It was the best of phalli; it was the worst of phalli. Or at least phallic symbols. A great deal of derision has recently and rightfully been aimed at plans for a 4-story LED monstrosity that Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton proposes to install at one end of Switchyard Park. This self-illuminating phallic symbol deserves every bit of ridicule it gets and then some. With some luck and government attention to citizen opinion, the damage done will be limited to the cost of the construction of the object (which has it seems already been built). The total anticipated project is around $1.1M of taxpayer money. It’s not clear how much money will have to be spent if the hopes of many people are fulfilled and the thing is never erected, meaning that the public would be spared the expense of installing the 4-story LED and then tolerating its presense.

Indiana University has erected its fair share of phallic symbols as well. The most recent of these marks the site of the new IU Health Bloomington Hospital on the Indiana Route 46 bypass. The “corners” of campus are also generally marked with some sort of small pillar made of limestone. There are of course then the bell tower on Franklin Hall and the Indiana Memorial Union itself. However, within the IU campus, the tower that gets the most public derision of late seems to be the tower holding IU’s Metz Carillon. The recent spate of criticism seems to arise from the superficial similarities with the lastest fiasco involving Mayor Hamilton. The Metz Carillon does have some similarities with Mayor Hamilton’s LED monstrosity: both are very large, both are very expensive, and both are easily parodied. The “Eye of Sauron” retouching of the Metz Carillon shown above is so obvious that someone probably should seen this coming at the design stage and changed the design. But these three factors are where the similarities end.

In the following paragraphs I hope to explain a bit of the history of the Metz Carillon, how it was paid for, and how it fits into a pattern of donations by an IU alumnus who started poor and did (very) well. You dear reader are welcome to dislike and criticize it if you wish, but please do so with a correct basis of factual information. A recent post in Facebook referred to it as an example of “a pattern of overpriced erections by out of touch élites quick to spend on pet projects what would be better applied to human needs neglected.” The clever use of the French version of the word elite is admirable (I’m thinking of the senate race between Dr. Oz and John Fetterman and the difference between crudité and a plastic plate of vegetables). But there is a lot wrong with this view in my opinion. The goal of this article is to provide the reader with history and context that you may not already have regarding the Metz Carillon. You’re fully welcome to criticize the Metz Carillon if you see fit so to do, but please do so on the basis of your opinion and correct historical information.

Arthur R. Metz was born a poor farm boy in Indiana, got his undergraduate degree at IU, then went on to fight in WWI and then become a successful and wealthy doctor. He then proceeded to give a lot of money away while alive and then this continued after his death through the Arthur R. Metz Foundation. The Metz Carillon was originally created in 1970 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of IU. It was at one point a key aspect of musical life at IU. Due to bad design of the building that originally hosed it and probably maintenance neglect, it became unserviceable (that is, too screwed up to actually play). The Metz Foundation funded the re-creation of a better-than-new Metz Carillon through a project that was publicly announced in 2017 and completed in 2020. The original bells were refurbished, new bells were added, and a new tower and control mechanisms were created so that the bells could be heard all through the IU campus. Its first public performance was on the date of the IU bicentennial in 2020. Since then there has been considerable criticism of this investment. The IDS in particular publicized the false accusation that IU students had paid for the Carillon. In fact, the Metz Carillon is just one aspect of a decades long and multifaceted pattern of investment in IU by a grateful alumnus and by the charitable foundation he created. It is the source of the most widely accessible musical concert series offered by IU. One can assert that every significant human problem in south-central Indiana should be addressed before there is any private charitable investment in the arts. The logical conclusion of this argument is that there should also be no public investment and thus no investment of any kind in the arts until all dire human problems in the Bloomington area are solved. It is certainly true that IU needs to do more to encourage and enable more playing of the Metz Carillon, and IU could be more active in informing the public about this wonderful instrument. It would be wonderful if it someday regains the treasured place in Bloomington life it once had. But to assert that there should be no investment in the positive aspects of beauty until the negative aspects of human life have been addressed seems incorrect to me.

And now, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story:

Who was Arthur R. Metz, the person after whom the Metz Carillon is named? He was born poor in 1887 and died wealthy in 1963. An IU web page states: “Dr. Arthur R. Metz was born near South Whitley, Indiana, in 1887, and came to IU in 1905. He later graduated from Rush Medical College and served as a captain in the Armed Forces during World War I. He subsequently became one of Chicago’s foremost physicians and surgeons.” Dr. Metz was among those who developed the use of Barium paste as a way to visualize the GI tract in an X-ray. He did very, very well but also did a lot of good. Metz graduated from IU in 1909 but remained attached to IU his whole life.

Dr. Metz founded the “Arthur R. Metz Foundation” in 1948 as a vehicle for his philanthropic work. This foundation funded the initial creation and the renovation of the Metz Carillon.

In his late 60s Dr. Metz established the Metz Scholarship fund at IU. Started in 1953, Metz scholarships still seem to exist. As an example of the value of this scholarship program a press release from 2011 states that it provided scholarships to 43 students that year. There also at least periodically seems to have been funding for the work of student group activities from the Metz Foundation.

Dr. Metz was awarded the IU Distinguished Alumni award in 1953. After his death in 1963 his foundation continued to invest in IU and other good causes. A signature event occurred in 1970 when the Metz Foundation funded the original creation of the Mertz Carillon. A Carillon is a rare and to many ears beautiful musical instrument. It is played via a sort-of-keyboard and can have a varying number of bells. The better ones have something on the order of 60 or more bells (more on Carillons is available online).

Created to honor the 150th anniversary of IU, the original Metz Carillon added more distinction to the already distinguished IU School of Music (now known as the Jacobs School). The original Carillon was installed at the top of a hill close to Lingelbach Lane, near the intersection of 17th street and the 46 bypass. It was installed in a tower that I always found ugly even by standards of Brutalist architecture, shown below.


The plaque commemorating the Carillon in its original location is shown below:

The picture of the plaque shows behind it the poured cement that made up the tower. As you can see from the picture above, the top of this tower – also cement – was flat and made out of multiple pieces of cement. Eventually leaks in the top of the building resulted in water damage to the mechanisms of the Carillon to the point that it was no longer playable.

Someone – and I do not know who – had the idea of refurbishing the bells as part of the IU Bicentennial. The Metz Foundation and other private donations paid for this. This significant and effort was announced in 2017. The initial press release said,

When it was built in 1970 and dedicated by then IU President John Ryan in 1971, the Metz Carillon was an impressive musical instrument containing 61 bells, which allowed for a five-octave performance range, rare among carillons. But its present remote and impractical location – with no space for comfortable audience seating – meant it was rarely used for performances. Additionally, over its nearly 50 years, the present carillon tower has badly deteriorated due to weather and other factors.

The press release went on to say:

The upgrade and relocation of the Metz Carillon as part of IU’s bicentennial celebration revitalizes and renews the Metz Foundation’s original vision for the carillon that began during the IU sesquicentennial celebration in 1970,” said IU President Michael A. McRobbie. “I am delighted that this superb instrument will once again become a central part of musical life on the IU campus. It will open up a whole new area of music where our students, faculty, staff and visitors will have a wonderful new opportunity to experience the renown of our talented Jacobs School of Music faculty and students.

The refurbishing project cost $13.7M. The new Metz Carillon was first played for the public on January 20, 2020. It was cold, as is clear from the picture of the author and his wife at that first performance.

No IU funds were used to refurbish the instrument or build the new tower. Certainly IU students did not in any way shape or form pay for it, as the Indiana Daily Student repeatedly and seemingly knowingly asserted. Unquestionably IU pays for upkeep and pays for instructors to teach the Carillon as an instrument, just as they do for every other instrument from Bassoon to Xylophone (and maybe even Accordion).

IU’s work in fully restoring the Metz Carillon to its former place of prominence is not yet done. The Metz Carillon does not have the place in the collective community psyche that it had when I came to IU as a graduate student in 1982. Then students signed up to be on a waiting list for the opportunity to play. The Carillon was a prominent and cherished part of IU musical life. As it is now the Carillon is played less often than I would like. And admittedly, heaven help anyone with an office in the GIS Building, Geology Building, or Psychology Building who has an office that faces the direction of the Carillon and does not appreciate Carillon music. Nonetheless it is a wonderful, beautiful, and rare instrument. There are fewer than 100 other institutions of higher education in the US with a Carillon on campus.

As of this writing there is a Carillon concert every Sunday afternoon at 2 pm. All you have to do is show up, sit down (or stand if you wish), listen, and enjoy. The schedule for the “Meet Me at the Metz Carillon Series” concert schedule is online. If you want to get a sense of what a Carillon concert sounds like there is a very nice recording of an IU student recital online here and hear some Carillon music and hear about the Carillon itself here.

In summary, the Metz Carillon today represents the restoration of a musical tradition at IU, a distinctive element of the Jacobs School of Music suite of instruments and performances, and to most ears at least a beautiful addition to the soundscape of the IU campus. IU should do more to have more students performing and have performances more often throughout the weekday. The design is a bit unfortunate. The columns are graceful and the tower design reflects the fact that the bells have to be up in the air a good way for the sound to carry. But the design of the top of the Metz Carillon lends itself far too easily to parody. Someone probably should have foreseen “eye of Sauron” parody and altered the top of the tower.

An assertion has been made that the money spent on the Metz Carillon should have been used instead to alleviate human suffering evident in the Bloomington community. One can indeed justify an ethical assertion that private philanthropy should focus on meeting important human needs before funding the arts. To do that also implies that no public funds should be spent on funding for the arts till human misery has been banished. Certainly the LED monstrosity proposed by our Mayor is not art and the planned $1.1M would have been better spent to help the unhoused of Bloomington. (The $5M he has pissed away on useless and unwanted lawsuits could have been used for that purpose as well).

But beauty matters too. The Metz Carillon has been unarguably a source of beautiful music and arguably a source of beautiful architecture since its re-creation in 2020. It inspires the imaginations of Bloomington residents who hear its music and it is a distinctive aspect of the IU Bloomington community.

The Metz scholarships, which began in 1953, and the Metz Carillon, first installed in 1970, are not the only investments made by the Arthur R. Metz and the foundation he created. The Metz foundation also funded the lion’s share of the cost of the Wells-Metz Theatre, administered by the  Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance and part of the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center built in 2002.

Whatever it is and whatever you think of it, the Metz Carillon is not the pet project of out-of-touch elites (or even élites). It is one aspect of a continued pattern of investment in the life of IU by a grateful IU grad born poor and grown rich. These investments focus particularly on the artistic life of IU. Criticize it if you will but criticize it within the context of correct facts and history please. This grand musical instrument certainly deserves to be distinguished from the publicly funded phallic LED monstrosity that current Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton wants to foist on our landscape. The Hamilton LED Phallus is clearly the worst of phalli. And the Metz Carillon, if not the best of phalli, is at least the far better of these two towers.