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A few facts about the Kniker Carillon in the Main Building Tower

Towering Over the University
Tom Anderson, carilloneur at The University of Texas at Austin, stands between two of the larger bells in the Kniker Carillon in the Main Building Tower.

Following are a few facts about the Kniker Carillon in the Tower of the Main Building at The University of Texas at Austin:

The Kniker Carillon (pronounced ku-NICK-er KAIR-uh-lon) is named after a UT Austin alumna, Hedwig Thusnelda Kniker (B.A. 1916, M.A. 1917). Ms. Kniker was a pioneer in the field of micropaleontology and was involved for many years in oil field activites in Texas and South America. When she died in 1985, she directed the executors of her estate to provide the funding necessary to complete the carillon.

The project originally was slated for completion during the Texas Sesquicentennial in 1986, but delays held up the installation until the summer of 1987. Installation of the bells, new baton console and electronic contacts cost about $168, 000, which was covered by the Kniker bequest.

Work in the Tower began in early August 1987 and required more than 11,000 man-hours to complete. The bells were installed by the I.T. Verdin Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Verdin employees were hampered during the installation by several delays, including frozen bolts in the existing 51-year-old bells.

The dedication and inaugural concert of the Kniker Carillon will be Nov. 14, 1987, on Dads' Day (during the annual parent's weekend at UT Austin).

UT Austin now has the largest carillon in Texas, both in terms of number of bells and tonnage. At the time of this writing, there are 13 larger carillons in North America, the largest being that of Kirk-in-the-Hills Presbyterian Church of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which has 77 bells. In tonnage, however, the largest in found in New York City's Riverside Church.

The UT Tower had 17 bells when it was built in 1936, with space provided for an additional 39. The current work brings the total number of bells to 56. During the recent carillon installation, Verdin employees arranged the existing bells for placement of the new ones and installed a completely new system of pulleys and electronic contacts.

A bells set must have a certain number of bells to be considered a carillon. This figure varies from 23 to 25 bells, depending on the source of information, and any bell system falling below this properly called a “chime.”

The bell casting for the Kniker Carillon was done in the Netherlands by the Royal Dutch Bellfoundry of Petit & Fritsen b.v., founded in 1660. The company has been particularly busy for the past few decades replacing the bells in the Netherlands smelted down by Nazi Germany for shell casings.

Bells are normally composed of a bronze alloy in the average mixture of 80 parts copper to 20 parts tin. Smaller bells usually have a slightly higher percentage of tin.

According to library sources, artisans from the Netherlands and Flanders were the first great carillon builders.

Some of the bells after installation.

The biggest bell of a carillon –and thus the deepest in tone –is known as the “bourdon.” The size of the bourdon traditionally accounts for the relative pressure of a carillon, and the largest in existence are in excess of 20 tons. There's no limit to size possible, as the necessity of having a chromatic (half-step) scaled for musical compositions requires that notes not be skipped. Otherwise, certain songs requiring a missing note would have to be transposed to another key, or rejected for performance altogether. Space and money for the overall system, therefore, are the practical limitations to the size of the bourdon.

According to the Verdin employees, the largest bells in existence is located in Moscow and weighs more than 100 tons. That bell, however, is not part of a carillon.

Each bell must be fine-tuned in order for the proper tone to emerge from five “partial” pitches. The fundamental (strike pitch) is supplemented by a partial (the “tierce”) which is a third above the fundamental and which accounts for a bell's solemn tone. The three other tuned partials are of lesser importance and several other partials are not tuned. In addition, the bells must be tuned in relation to each other.

Bells of a carillon do not swing back and forth. They are mounted rigidly—preferably on wooden beams to avoid unwanted tones that might be set up by a vibrating steel beam—and are struck by swinging clappers activated by a lever system attached to the keyboard.

Workers for the I.T. Verdin Company of Cincinnati are shown with some of the smaller bells which were installed in the Kniker Carillon in the Main Building Tower.

The Verdin Company is one of the few of its kind in the world. Company employees travel the whole of North American for construction, renovations and repair work.

The Kniker bourdon weighs 7,350 pounds and strikes the B flat nine steps below middle C. The bourdon came with the original 1936 package and has been used these 51 years both in musical compositions and to strike the hour.

The familiar four-note melody striking each quarter-hour is known as a Westminster Chime, utilizing the A, F, G and C notes below middle C. All of these bells were positioned in the Tower in 1936.

As already noted, most of the 39 new bells are of higher register. Money and lack of space in the existing bell tower area prohibited the installation of lower-pitched bells. But according to Tom Anderson, longtime carilloneur for the University and assistant director of the International Office, the higher bells will allow a greater number of melodies to be played than would a few deeper bells.

After playing the bells by electronic keyboard for a couple of decades, Mr. Anderson once again will be climbing the Tower stairs to play a traditional baton console (manual keyboard). The batons are hammered with the side of the hand. Approximately half the bells (the lower register) can be struck by foot pedal. Electronic keyboards exist, but most carilloneurs prefer the manual actions since volume can be controlled by the intensity of the strike. In particular, the foot pedals allow the carilloneur leverage in volume.

For decades, several University carilloneurs have been playing 12:50 p.m. concerts on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. Due to complaints from professors in the open-windowed days prior to the advent of air conditioning, they long ago gave up playing on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Although limits probably exist, Mr. Anderson can play a surprising variety of songs on the carillon. When the new bells were first hooked up on Sept. 25, 1987, he tested the tuning with a rendition of “Minuet No. 1” from J.S. Bach's Anna Magdalena notebook. Later, he played “The Eyes of Texas.”

On Campus. November 2-8, 1987.
Article by: Unknown

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3 May 1999
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