The University of Texas at Austin
  • They Ring the Tower Bells [Watch]

    By Tracy Mueller
    Published: Dec. 11, 2013

    Yes, that was a Lady Gaga tune you heard emanating from the Tower bells, perhaps followed by “Happy Birthday” and then a Bach minuet.

    The carillon—the instrument used to play the bells—may be an ancient apparatus with origins in the 1600s, but in the hands of the students in the UT Guild of Carillonneurs, it swings easily between Baroque and “Bad Romance,” folk and “The Final Countdown.”

    UT student carilloneurs

    Current student director Austin Ferguson (center) with past guild officers Jacy Meador (left) and Camellia Onn. [Via The University of Texas Guild of Carillonneurs on Facebook.]

    In December they play holiday music, although student director Austin Ferguson often sneaks it in before Thanksgiving. They take requests via Twitter (#PlaytheTower), perform special concerts and pick songs to match the day’s events (“The Sound of Music” on Julie Andrews’ birthday). The students have played memorial recitals for the Texas A&M bonfire victims, the Boston Marathon bombings and 9/11.

    Every set begins with the Welsh folk song “Ash Grove” and concludes with “The Eyes of Texas.”

    The bells are a beloved campus tradition, although few get to see or play them, perched high in the Tower and spanning 4.5 octaves. With 56 bells, UT’s carillon (called the Kniker Carillon) is the largest and heaviest in Texas, with the low B flat 2 bell weighing in at 7,350 pounds and the high G7 a mere 20 pounds.

    In room 3002, 55 steps up from the Tower’s observation deck and past a series of guarded doors and narrow passages, the guild members sit at the carillon’s organ-like console, striking a system of batons and pedals that ring the bells mounted in a chamber above.

    UT Tower bells

    A panoramic view of the Tower bells. [Via The University of Texas Guild of Carillonneurs on Facebook.]

    The students come from many backgrounds. Ferguson is a music theory and government/pre-law junior, while other current guild members are studying oboe, computer science, business, Arabic and environmental science. They are members of an exclusive group that includes alumnus carillonneur Tom Anderson, who still plays today, 61 years after he first started as a music student in 1952.

    Membership to the guild is granted only after passing two rounds of a semester-long audition and weekly lessons. The guild abides by an official constitution and is not to exceed nine members at any time.

    They are devoted to the instrument and tend to seek out other carillons to play when traveling. Ferguson even has a bell tattooed on his left ankle.

    So the next time you step outside on campus, pay close attention. You never know what you’re going to hear.

    WATCH: A few of our favorite carillon performances


    UT student creativity

    This story is part of our yearlong series “The Creative Campus,” which showcases student creativity.

    • Quote 2
      VCP-510 Braindumps said on Jan. 9 at 10:26 a.m.
      How many people get to say that they can walk to to class and listen the most beautiful music that nourishes the ear. The carillonneurs are just another reminder to me that when I look up we are all one.
    • Quote 2
      Jason Cano said on Dec. 27, 2013 at 10:09 p.m.
      These guys earn their scholship to the university of texas in Austin
    • Quote 2
      Austin Ferguson said on Dec. 16, 2013 at 11:11 a.m.
      Rios, we don't have any yet. However, if you were to send in a song request, I could record it and make it available as an mp3 file for you!
    • Quote 2
      Michelle said on Dec. 16, 2013 at 9:15 a.m.
      Loved this article. UT really is a wonderful place to work and support!
    • Quote 2
      jered said on Dec. 15, 2013 at 3:57 a.m.
      Hanging out on the north mall one day back in the 90s, I met a 30-something woman who dated a carillonneur when she was a student. She described the broom handle keyboard but I recall she also said the dude had to wear gloves. She ended up married to a baseball player, who quickly ended our pleasant conversation. I extend my thanks to (almost) everyone.
    • Quote 2
      Rios said on Dec. 14, 2013 at 8:54 p.m.
      Are these tones available on an mp3 format? Ringtone for a cell phone?
    • Quote 2
      John Christian said on Dec. 14, 2013 at 2:04 p.m.
      ...............I've known Thomas Anderson since the 1960s and the wonderful music he has played throughout the years -- and to read this story about the "new carillonneur" is fantastic, to think they will be way up their in the Tower (ooops! I mean Main Building) spreading music and joy to us who walk around below on campus...I bet Freddy the Albino Squirrel and his buddies also like to hear the musical notes...it is such a pleasure, in many ways...perhaps, we might get to hear the music of Claude, sp., Debussy, Sibelius, et al. I know Tom played the birthday song from Mexico -- las Mananitas, sp. -- one day....this is a great story....very interesting....John Christian, UT staff retired, UT / Dobie-Paisano Fellow, 1976
    • Quote 2
      Sterling Wright said on Dec. 13, 2013 at 11:10 p.m.
      Austin (person) and Austin (city) thank you for making my life so wonderful. How many people get to say that they can walk to to class and listen the most beautiful music that nourishes the ear. The carillonneurs are just another reminder to me that when I look up we are all one.
    • Quote 2
      Jim Nieto said on Dec. 12, 2013 at 11:33 a.m.
      Would they ever allow alumni to play this instrument? If this has ever been done, under what circumstances?
      • Quote 2
        Tracy Mueller said on Dec. 12, 2013 at 11:39 a.m.
        Jim, they do host guest carillonneurs, and alumnus Tom Anderson began playing as a student in the '50s and never stopped! However, I don't know the rules about who can play, so your best bet is to contact the guild directly. Visit their website (link in the story) for contact information.
    • Quote 2
      Alicia Elley said on Dec. 11, 2013 at 3:15 p.m.
      Austin Ferguson's dedication to this musical tradition is admirable. He is talented and passionate and deserves a healthy scholarship!
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