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For Whom the Bell Tolls

Knicker Carillon entertains campus with concerts, chimes

As the Tower bells ring out their songs, most walking across campus do not hear the squeak and clank of pulleys moving the bells' clappers.

Usually only Tom Anderson, who plays the 56 bells resting at the top of the Tower, sees the wires stretching to the keyboard one floor below.

Anderson has been playing the carillon bells since 1967.

“I've kept on playing the bells, and I will until I can't climb the stairs,” Anderson said.

He takes the wooden steps leading through the dim, dingy attic of the UT Tower to the sunny console room at the top. Above the tiny console room where Anderson works are the bells, which can be accessed only by a ladder.

The console looks like and upright piano that has small wooden batons instead of keys. Anderson plays by hitting the batons with his fists or by steeping on floor pedals.

Anderson gives 10-minute concerts Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 12:50 p.m. Fridays he plays duets with Chris Humphrey.

Just before the Friday concert, the two decide what they will play as they rehearse on a practice console on the eighth floor of the Tower.

Chris Humphrey and Tom Anderson have claimed March by Dmitri Shostakovich as their signature song. They perform 10-minute duets on Fridays at 12:50pm.

“Usually it's like, `Is it rainy? Is it sunny? What do we feel like doing today?'” Humphrey said.

On rainy days, Anderson likes to play Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head, he said. He plays the national anthems of foreign countries on their national holidays.

Humphrey and Anderson have claimed March by Dmitri Shostakovich as their signature song, Humphrey said.

In 1987, 39 new bells were added to the carillon with money donated by UT alumna Hedwig Kniker, who received a bachelor's degree in 1916 and master's degree in 1917 from the University. The University has the largest carillon in Texas, both in the number of bells and tonnage.

The original 17 bells were installed in 1936 when the Tower was built.

The largest bell in the Kniker carillon weighs 7,350 pounds and is a B flat nine steps below middle C. In 1987, bells that strike higher notes were installed to complete the carillon.

Lorn Howard, carillonneur for Highland Park Methodist Church and Southern Methodist University, both in Dallas, said the Kniker Carillon is a well-crafted instrument.

“The clappers have been adjusted so that they strike the bells in similar positions,” he said. If the clappers are not correctly adjusted, the bells do not sound right ii a scale, he added.

Learning to play a carillon takes lots of free time to practice, but is not hard, especially for music majors, Howard said.

“Anybody with practice time and time to play...should be able to qualify very well in three years,” he said.

Anderson began playing the bells as a student at the University, he said. He learned from his brother, David Anderson, who was the carillonneur before him.

After receiving bachelor's and master's degrees in music from the University, Anderson left Austin. He returned to the University in 1966 to take a job with the International Office, he said, the same year the Tower was closed after Charles Whittman killed 16 people as he shot from the building's upper deck.

In 1967, Chancellor Harry Ransom wanted bells played for the Honors Day, Anderson said.

After Anderson played for the event, which paid tribute to undergraduate students with good academic standings, Anderson was asked to become the full-time carillonneur, he said.

Anderson said UT alumni have told him they did not realize what a part of their college memory of the bells were until hearing a carillon in a different city reminded them of the UT campus.

Daily Texan. February 6, 1995.
Article by: Elizabeth Souder

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3 May 1999
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