History of the Bell Songs in University’s Bell Tower

Carillon

Carillon Bells

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 12:50 p.m., university students, faculty, staff, and visitors are treated to the sounds of beautiful music that floats from the top of the Tower to the farthest reaches of campus. Every 15 minutes, they also hear the pealing of the bells, and on the hour, the largest bell, reminding them to scurry to class, return to work, or signaling the end of the day. The Tower carillon is not only a part of the UT tradition but also part of the UT community’s everyday experience.

 

Playing the Carillon: Tom Anderson

Playing the Carillon: Tom Anderson

Three times a week, Tom Anderson prepares for his “concerts” in a practice room in the Main Building. The room is the size of a closet and contains a duplicate of the console located at the top of the Tower. The duplicate is connected to tone bars similar to a xylophone, rather than bells, but it gives Tom an idea of how songs will sound on the real carillon.

After the observation deck was closed in the early 1970’s, a police officer escorted Tom to the carillon room each time he played. In 1972, an electronic keyboard and speakers were installed in the practice room so Tom could hear the bells, and play without even going to the top of the Tower. When Tom played the electronic keyboard, the new set of outside clappers struck the outside of the bells. The outside clappers did not change the tone of the bells; however, playing the carillon with an electronic keyboard does not allow direct contact with the bells. The carillonneur cannot utilize the dynamics that can be applied when playing the bells directly. In 1987, a new console with pedals was installed and Tom can now again play at the top of the Tower.
After practice, Tom takes the Tower elevator to the 27th floor. He then makes his way through several locked doors and up 55 narrow steps that wind inside the Tower and behind the massive clock face. Tom plays the carillon in room 3002, but to actually see the bells, he must continue up a ladder and climb through a trapdoor.

Tom plays the carillon with his hands and feet. Each handle and foot pedal pulls a cable that is attached to the clapper inside each bell. Occasionally, Tom plays duets on Friday with Chris Humphrey, which adds to the number of bells that can be played.

 

 

History of the Carillon

oldmainbells

Old Bell Tower

A carillon is a set of at least 23 fixed, chromatically tuned bells sounded by clappers controlled by a keyboard and foot pedals. The bells that chimed in the Old Main Building’s tower are now displayed in front of the Performing Arts Center and are known as the Burleson Bells. The bells are named for Albert S. Burleson, Postmaster General and 1884 UT Law School graduate, who donated them to The University in 1929. After the razing of Old Main, the bells stayed in storage until the 1983 centennial celebration. The design of the new Main Building’s belfry allowed for thirty-nine bells, but the university could only afford to buy 16; Lutcher Stark, a member of the Board of Regents, donated the 17th bell. However, UT still did not have a full carillon, which posed a problem for carillonneurs. Not having all the notes available limited the number of songs the carillonneurs were able to play.

 

Installation of the new bells in 1985

Installation of the new bells in 1985

In 1985, Ms. Hedwig Thusnelda Kniker bequeathed money to buy 22 more bells for the carillon as well as the console and installation. However, the C# and B bells would not fit in the elevators. As a result, The University decided to put additional bells in the upper register, acquiring 39 instead of 22. The Kniker Carillon is 56 bells, making it the largest in Texas. Shortly after the carillon’s original instillation in 1936, Jane Yantis, a high school student and daughter of H. C. Yantis, building contractor for the Tower, played the first song on the carillon. Appropriately, the bells rang out “The Eyes of Texas.”

 

Tom Anderson at the carillon console. Inset- Ms. Kniker

Tom Anderson at the carillon console. Inset- Ms. Kniker

The current carillonneur is Thomas W. Anderson. Tom first played the carillon from 1952 until 1956, while a graduate student in music. His brother, David Anderson, preceded him, playing from 1950 until 1952. Former carillonneurs, Charles Hunter (1956-57), Proctor Crow Jr. (1957-59), James Moeser (1959-1961), Gordon King (1961-1963), and Lee Kohlenberg, Jr. (1963-1965), carved their names into the wall of the room where the carillon is played. There was no carillonneur from 1965 until 1967, when U. T. President Harry H. Ransom suggested that Tom Anderson start playing the carillon again. He’s been playing it ever since.

 

 

Content Credit:

Cheryl Kaufman
Senior Administrative Associate
Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost

Tommy Oates
Microcomputer Application Specialist
Academic Computing and Instructional Technology Services

Mary Elizabeth McLain
Graduate Research Assistant
Academic Computing and Instructional Technology Services

Windy Barrett
Microcomputer Application Specialist
Academic Computing and Instructional Technology Services

Ginger Dennis
Senior Student Associate
Academic Computing and Instructional Technology Services

David Cook
Senior Systems Analyst
Academic Computing and Instructional Technology Services

 

Resources:

Anderson, Tom, Carillionneur at The University of Texas at Austin. Interview by Cheryl Kaufman, Tommy Oates, and P. J. Abrams, 2 December 1998, Austin.

Battle, William James . “Description of the Main Building at The University of Texas, 1957(?)” Battle Papers, The Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin.

Berry, Margaret C. Brick by Golden Brick : A History of Campus Buildings at The University of Texas at Austin, 1883-1993. Austin, Tex. : LBCo., 1993.

Berry, Margaret C. The University of Texas – A Pictorial Account of It’s First Century. Austin, Texas: The University of Texas Press, 1980.

Eckhardt, Carl John. Facts and Stories About Fifty Golden Years at The University of Texas, 1970(?).

Eckhardt, Carl John. The Promise of Greatness: Early Experiences at The University of Texas, 1978.

Lane, J.J. History of The University of Texas. Austin, Texas: Henry Hutchings State Printer, 1891.

Mansbendel, Peter. Peter Mansbendel: A Swiss Woodcarver in Texas: An exhibit prepared by The University of Texas at San Antonio Institute of Texan Culture , 1977-78. San Antonio: The Institute, 1977.

Reese, Carol, McMichael. Paul Cret at Texas : Architectural Drawing and the Image of The University in the 1930’s. With an Introduction by Drury Blakeley Alexander. Austin, Texas: Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, College of Fine Arts, The University of Texas at Austin, 1983.

Richards, Coral, Telecommunications Technician at the University of Texas at Austin. Interview by Mary Elizabeth McLain, 26 February 1999, Austin.

“U.T. Main and Tower.” Vertical File. The Center for American History. The University of Texas at Austin.