Union chimes draw mixed reactions

By By Aaron Vaughn

By Aaron Vaughn

The sound of ringing bells at the U may seem a little odd, seeing how the campus doesn’t have a bell tower.

The hourly chimes aren’t from any brass bells. The ringing bells-called carillon bells-originate from fixed loudspeakers atop the Union building.

A computer tucked away behind the information booth on the second floor of the Union building feeds the speakers synthesized sound so that every hour a set of bells is imitated.

“The bells give it a more college feel,” Union Director Whit Hollis said.

To get to the bells’ brain, Jim Grierson, the Union’s business manager, swipes his key card to enter a room not much bigger than a broom closet.

Past the jumble of data wires and a random array of tool is a case that holds the computer. Next to it is its accompanying keyboard.

“I program the song from here,” Grierson said as he unlocked the case’s door to access the computer that controls the bell sound.

The face of the computer displays buttons with descriptions of bell functions. One such function is a “call to worship” button. Grierson laughed and said that the button had never been used but may be used at private religious schools.

Other than the hourly toll, the carillon bell computer plays songs such as the ragtime classic “The Entertainer.”

Last fall it played the U’s school song, “Utah Man.”

Grierson said that the keyboard can be used to compose a song and have the bells play it, but that feature is never used.

Former interim director of the Union, Ryck Luthi, now retired, said the bell system started “giving up” in 1990. The system would chime erratically or sometimes not at all. The bell system went on a nearly 10-year hiatus.

Given a bad estimate on the bell’s repair cost, Luthi said that at the time the Union could not afford to fix the system.

“I regret not doing my homework earlier,” Luthi said, after he found that the repair really only needed a $50 installment to get the system running again.

Hollis helped bring the bells back to working order in 2002.

“The chimes are great,” said Dean Todd, sophomore in English. “I know what time it is when the bells ring and most universities have them.”

“The Entertainer” was a little over the top, he added, after his friend said he hated it.

“I can’t study in the library anymore because of construction, and when I hear it while trying to focus in the Union, it’s annoying,” said Chris Maughan, sophomore in political science and economics. Except for that, he said he liked the chimes tolling on the hour.

Carillon bells were originally created in Europe in the 17th century. The brothers Peiter and Francois Hemony in the Netherlands created the first carillon in 1652.

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