Ring out the old

Carillon chimes time reliably again on campus

By Sandra Sarr

For more than five centuries, the carillon has been a voice for hope, aspiration and joy, according to R. Robin Austin, carillonneur of Princeton University. But last year Puget Sound’s "joyful voice" became strangely silent.

"It seemed about once a month someone would call and say, ‘Hey, we haven’t heard the carillon chime in two or three days,’" said John Underhill, the Facility Services staff member in charge of making sure the carillon functions properly. "I guess it was just worn out."

So, after too many calls to the carillon repairman, the university has replaced the mechanism that chimed for several decades from the third floor of the music building. The new carillon is digital and located on the top floor of Collins Memorial Library.

"It’s not much larger than an apartment-sized refrigerator," said Chuck McIntyre, owner of McIntyre Organ in Seattle.

McIntyre maintained the old carillon since the early ’80s, and he installed the new one last fall. He said Puget Sound’s old carillon operated like a xylophone–it amplified struck-metal bars. The new one is a computer equipped with hardware and software that reproduces sounds. The tunes are pre-programmed on ROM cassettes called cards and broadcast from four speakers atop the library tower. Our carillon emits "a typical collegiate sound, Flemish chimes," according to McIntyre.

Although the old and new-style carillons sound the same to most, McIntyre discerns a slight difference.

"My opinion is that a struck piece of metal or pipe–sound that comes to the ear and is registered by the brain–is richer with more harmonics," McIntyre said.

But what it lacks in musical nuance, the new carillon makes up in reliability. It chimes the hour and half-hour and plays songs at noon and 5 p.m., regular as clockwork. The alma mater used to play each noon, recalled Jim Sorensen, former chair of the Music Department. But these days campus strollers hear songs like Schubert’s "Der Linden-baum" and Brahms’ arrangement of "Hungarian Dance in F-sharp minor."

Puget Sound’s original carillon came equipped with an organ that could be played in addition to programmed music.

"Edward Hansen [now-deceased Puget Sound professor of music] played music for the university’s centennial celebrations. He played music for special occasions throughout the ’80s and ’90s," said Sorensen.