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Carillon Bells to Ring In Christmas Program

As students and faculty members assemble in front of the Main Building Sunday evening for the sixteenth annual Christmas Carol Program, the carillon bells atop the Tower will chime the songs of Christmas.

At the keyboard which controls the tuneful 40,000 pounds of copper will be Thomas Anderson, graduate music education major from Austin. He has been carillonneur since September, 1952.

For Sunday night’s program, Anderson has selected "Joy to the World," "Lo How a Rose Ere’ Blooming," "O Come, O Come Emanuel," "What Child Is This?" "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Noel Nouvelet," and "Silent Night."

The seventeen bells constitute the loudest musical instrument in the Austin area. The keyboard which controls the bells resembles a small organ. But the keys, instead of ivory covered boards, are oak pegs four inches long. The pegs are attached to steel rods which are, in turn, connected to the bell clappers.

They keyboard, or manual, is located in a small plywood booth three flights above the Tower’s observation deck–directly beneath the bells. Tom says that it’s impossible to practice a tune or to run a few scales before a performance because every not struck is heard by thousands of people.

He adds that he formerly used gloves while playing the bells so as to prevent blisters. But the gloves caught between the pegs several times–with sour notes resulting–so he abandoned them. "Now I have callouses in the palms of my hands for protection," he said. 

The bells, cast by The Old Meneely Bell Foundry of Watervliet, N. Y., were installed in the Tower in November, 1935. Jane Yantis, a high school student and daughter of H. C. Yantis, building contractor for the Tower, was the first person to play the carillon. The bells rang out for the first time, appropriately, "The Eyes of Texas."

The biggest bell is the 7,800 pound B-flat bell which peals the hour. It is five feet in diameter.

Tom has studied piano all his life. Organ was his major instrument for his undergraduate degree. 

As he plays the bells Sunday night, he will be carrying on campus tradition–a tradition nearly as old at the University Tower and bells themselves.

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3 May 1999
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