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Tower Chimes UT Tradition
Carrilloneur Dispels 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' Image

Sometimes when it rains, he plays "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." On a hot and sunny afternoon, he may play "Winter Wonderland." Just before a football weekend, he likes to play themes from both football colleges. Whatever he plays, the music of Tom Anderson, carrilloneur for the Tower chimes, rings out all through and around the campus at 12:50 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

ANDERSON, assistant director for the International Office, said he first played the chimes while working toward his master's degree in music education in 1955-56. At that time, the job was under music department jurisdiction.

Anderson's brother was the carillonneur, and he inherited the job upon his brother's graduation.

In 1967, the bells had been silent and the Tower closed for a couple of years because of the Charles Whitman shooting incident, a fire and air conditioning repairs.

Dr. Harry Ransom, then chancellor, wanted the chimes played for Honors Day that year. Anderson did the job then and has been playing the chimes ever since.

DISILLUSIONING to thoughts of someone ringing the bells in Hunchback of Notre Dame fashion, Anderson's task is similar to playing an organ. From a room about the size of an average professor's office, on the third floor of the Main Building, he rings the bells 20 stories above him.

The room is furnished with a keyboard which resembles an electric organ, a bench, a chair and an amplifier to enable Anderson to hear what he plays. Only 17 of the 37 key on the keyboard will yield sound. A full carillon has at least 25 bells.

WHEN THE TOWER was built in 1936, there was only enough money for 17 bells, said Anderson. Because of the missing bells, music must be transposed to fit limited range. That is the reason that wrong notes are sometimes played, Anderson explained.

As he plays, electrical wires housed in a pipe to his left send impulses up to pieces which strike clappers inside the bells. The bells above remain stationary; only the clappers move. 

Anderson plays the chimes only at the appointed time. The bells automatically ring every 15 minutes because of a mechanical system geared to each of the four clocks, he said.

The bells, 25 feet above the Tower clocks, weigh 40,000 pounds. They are made of "bell metal," which is 75 percent copper and 22 percent tin. The bells and their clappers are bronze coated.

Only during the last few years have the bells been played from the simple third floor room. In earlier years, the carillonneur had to go to the top of the Tower where the keyboard was housed in a shelter near the bells.

Anderson said there are "advantages and disadvantages" to either location. The third floor chime room "is a lot quicker and there is more protection from the weather," he explained. However, Anderson indicated he enjoyed those trips to sound the chimes from the top of the Tower.

"IT'S KIND of like a ship's fog horn from up there," he remembered. "It doesn't knock you over, but can be heard for miles."

The unused keyboard still sits untouched inside the shelter near the bells themselves.

Why does he do it? "I like to play them," he says. "It's fun and so forth."

HE PLAYS a variety of tunes "whatever is on hand," is timely or something requested.

Some of his favorite tunes are international folk songs. "We have so many foreign students. This lets them know someone is interested in them and reminds them of their homes, " he said.

Daily Texan. October 9, 1972.
Article by: Susan Chambless

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3 May 1999
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