At 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., students and faculty members on campus hear the sound of bells from the tower of Boatwright Memorial Library. The bells rang for the first time in 1955 when Boatwright first opened.
Despite common belief, the tower does not have actual bells. The sound we hear twice a day comes from a synthesizer. According to the university’s history website, when the library was built, the University installed an electromechanical carillon, which is an electronic chime usually played by an automatic mechanism or keyboard.
The university's website says that when the library opened, the carillon would ring at 8:30 a.m. and then continue to ring at one-hour intervals throughout the day until 5 p.m., when a series of Baptist hymns would play.
However, lighting struck the library tower in the late 1970s and damaged the carillon, according to the university's history website. The website says that it was repaired in 1982, but then was replaced with a computerized carillon in 1993. This synthesizer is used today and requires a song-selection card that is set to toll at certain times, according to Joanne Kong, director of accompaniment and coordinator of chamber ensembles in the music department.
Kong is responsible for inserting the music cards four times per year. Kong said that there are a few dozen selection cards to choose from, and each card typically has about a dozen music titles on it.
“The cards are ‘topical,’ for example, light classics, patriotic melodies, holiday music, and so on,” Kong wrote in an email. “When putting in a new card, there is the option either for the melodies to be played sequentially, or randomly.”
Usually, students and faculty members on campus hear classical music from the Boatwright tower. However, every once in a while, people hear something out of the ordinary.
David Stevens, a professor of English, has worked for the university since 2005 and teaches in Ryland Hall. Whether he is in his office or teaching a creative writing course in the afternoon, Stevens is always aware of the bells. And although he admits that the music is usually classical, he says he has heard some different music played in the past.
“Every now and then, they can play some pretty weird stuff,” Stevens said. “They’ve got 'The Godfather' on there and I can’t swear to this, but I really do believe that I’ve heard the soundtrack to ‘Hill Street Blues.’ But to make sure, it would require me to stop my class, open the windows and have everyone listen intently just to be sure, and I draw the line at that.”
Although Stevens always hears the bells from his office in Ryland, students in the library never do, junior Annie Lai said.
Lai has worked for the library at the front desk for two years and was surprised to find that she cannot hear the bells from her station.
“This semester I’ve been working more in the afternoons, usually from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. or 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.,” Lai said. “And I was surprised that I don’t really hear the bells. They’re pretty loud, so it’s weird that I can’t hear them from here.”
Although UR’s bell tower does not have actual bells, on occasion, Kong is asked to play live music from a small keyboard for special memorial services, holidays and other events. When Kong plays, the keyboard is connected to the main computerized unit and projected to the whole campus.
Kong said that in the past, she had heard about the possibility of installing an actual bell or a proper carillon, but that the topic had not been discussed for a while.
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