About the Carillon
- Main Building (Tower): 307 feet, 55 steps from Observation Deck to carillon room (Room 3002)
- The Carillon: 56 bells (the largest in Texas), pitched in C
- Age of Bells: the lowest 17 bells were cast in 1936 by the Old Meneely Bell Foundry of New York, the upper 39 in 1987 by the Petit and Fritsen Bell Founders in the Netherlands
- Lowest bell: B♭2; 7,350 pounds
- Highest bell: G7; 20 pounds
- The Guild: Founded in 2010, with a maximum of nine members
What is a carillon?
A carillon is a musical instrument composed of at least 23 bells, tuned in chromatic sequence. Any instrument with less than 23 is properly called a chime. The carillon is played from a console that resembles a piano or organ, with batons (instead of keys) for the hands and pedals for the feet. These move the clappers that strike and sound the bells, which remain stationary on their mounts. This setup allows the carillonneur to play with a great range of dynamic expressions; the intensity of the baton strike is directly related to the volume of the ring. For more information, see a brief history and technical discussion on the GCNA website.
How many bells are there in the Main Building (Tower)?
The Kniker Carillon has 56 bells, chromatically arranged from the B-flat nine notes below Middle C to the G four octaves above Middle C for a total of 4.5 octaves, except for the B-natural and C-sharp below Middle C. Lack of space in the elevators and belfry prevented those notes from being installed, so the University put in more high bells.
What kinds of music can be played on the carillon, and are there any songs you play more than others? How do you decide what to play?
Nearly anything! There are composers who wrote music specifically for the carillon (Ronald Barnes, Mathias Van den Gheyn, John Knox, and many more), as well as arrangements of instrumental and vocal pieces, too. Nearly anything can be arranged for carillon as long as the range fits the instrument and parts are simplified enough for the carillonneur. The Kniker Carillon has played everything from Bach minuets to Lady Gaga. The Guild has two songs that are played at each Tower Time. The first is “The Ash Grove,” a traditional Welsh folksong that is played as an opener to each group ring. Prospective members members are required to learn this piece before their final audition. The last song to be played is always, of course, “The Eyes of Texas.” We play what we feel like! Song selection is solely up to the performer and changes as their mood does.
What are some of the important dates and people in the history of the Kniker Carillon?
Construction of the Main Building was complete in 1937, and the Tower was fitted with a chime of 17 bells (the University could only afford 16, but a regent donated the 17th). Students played on the chime regularly; each signed their name on a wooden board that is still in the carillon room today. In 1985, however, Ms. Hedwig Thusnelda Kniker left provisions in her will to outfit the Tower chime to the standards of a proper carillon. The money she bequeathed led to the addition of 39 new bells from the Petit and Frissen Bell Foundry, with instillation and upgrades to the console done by the Verdin Bell Foundry in 1987; the addition turned the chime into a 4.5-octave carillon, the largest in Texas both in terms of tonnage and number of bells. The dedicatory concert was on Dad’s Day; November 14, 1987.
What is the University of Texas Guild of Carillonneurs? How can I join the Guild?
The Guild is the student organization responsible for ringing the bells in the Main Building Tower. It is a self-perpetuating group; current Guild members teach incoming members the basics of carillon playing for a full year after each has passed an entry-level audition. The system is based on that of the Yale University Guild of Carillonneurs. Auditions are held every fall semester. For more information, feel free to click here.
Want to find out more about the architecture and history of the Main Building?
Check out the University’s (archived) website on the architecture of the Main Building. There are lots of pictures and it has articles on the carillon, too! Look under “In the News” for a list of readings on the history of the building and the instrument itself.