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Lee Kohlenberg Sends Songs Soaring From Tower Heights

In addition to the quarter-hourly tones of the Tower chimes, there can be heard from time to time the tunes of many familiar songs, ranging from "The Old Hundredth" to "Seventy-six Trombones," resounding from atop the Tower.

The person behind these melodious sounds, or rather, beneath them, is Lee Kohlenberg Jr., sophomore organ major in the Department of Music, who is the University’s carillonneur.

"That," explained Kohlenberg, "means that I play the carillon bells."


The mechanism which operates the carillon is located above the observation deck of the Tower in a small wooden shelter at the base of the columns which surround the bells. Kohlenberg described the location as "up with the pigeons in a tool shed."

In order to reach the shelter, he must ascend to the observation deck, which is as high as the Tower elevator goes, then climb a narrow flight of 50 steps beyond that point.

The "keyboard" which Kohlenberg plays is actually a set of levers which must be pulled to cause the bells to sound. It is also possible to play them by means of foot pedals, but he has found that they do not respond as well.


The carillon consists of 17 bells of different sizes, which range from "C-below-middle-C" up one and one-half octaves to "G" on what corresponded to the "white keys" of a piano. The bells sound only one octave of the "black key" tones, however.

Triggered by the mechanism located below, the bells, which are stationary, are sounded by being struck on the outer rim by the clappers.

"They aren’t as loud as you would expect while I’m up there playing," Kohlenberg said.

Although it is "rather cold up there now," he can remember that during the summer months it was quite the other extreme up in the shelter.


Kohlenberg, who has been playing the carillon since January, 1963, said that his qualifications for the job "consisted mainly in being able to read a line of music."

He began by playing mostly hymns during the regular carillon during the regular carillon concerts from 12:50 to 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Soon, however, he found that "it was too dull just to play things that didn’t offer much challenge."

For variety he began to play show tunes and standard favorites in addition to hymns.

"I use a lot of my father’s music now," he reported, speaking of the arrangements used by the Lee Kohlenberg Dance Band, which his father leads, and in which he plays the piano.

Several things must be considered in choosing music for the carillon, he explained. The tune must be within the range of the bells, and the music should be arranged so that it is not necessary to turn a page while playing, since both hands are required to pull the levers of the mechanism.


One difficulty is that there is no way to practice, since the mechanism cannot be disengaged from the bells.

"Actually, you can play anything that doesn’t go too fast or have a lot of jumps from key to key," he added.

Much of the fun of playing the carillon is in experimenting with new ideas, Kohlenberg revealed. He had discovered, for example, that an attempt at harmony by striking two bells at the same time results in a muddled clamor.

"One time," he recalled, "I played just the chorus from ‘Basin Street Blues,’ and one of my instructors later asked me what the song was."

The most hazardous feature of his job, Kohlenberg said, is the constant problem of timing. The Tower chimes come on automatically at one minute before the hour, and although he tries to plan his music to end at that time, he has occasionally been interrupted by the chimes mid-way through a song.

"I usually set my watch with the Tower clock," he stated, "but sometimes the music does run overtime. If I’m in the middle of a piece, I just have to quit."

Daily Texan. January 8, 1964.
Article by: Jean Etsinger

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3 May 1999
Send comments to evpp@www.utexas.edu
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