Bells which may be heard from as far as a mile away from campus ring Monday through Friday at noon, played by a select few from the music department.
This semester’s student carillonneurs are: Carrie Cunningham, senior in elementary education; Josh Hellyer, senior in community and regional planning; and Erin Reger, junior in accounting.
The students learn from music and theater assistant professor Dr. Tin-Shi Tam and play the carillon on campus every class day.
“The campanile is the symbol of Iowa State and it’s a thing you remember,” Reger said. “I can say ‘I can play that’ and everyone is surprised by that.”
These students come from various musical backgrounds, from those with none to pianists who began playing early in life, according to Tam. Tam said carillon students who know how to read music learn more quickly, but they can still learn without any prior knowledge.
There are only about five carillon students at any given time due to lesson and concert scheduling, according to Tam. Tam said she typically takes on one new carillon student per semester.
“I have always said there are a couple of prerequisites for playing carillon. First, that you are not afraid of heights. Second thing is that you are physically fit enough to climb all the stairs to the top of the tower. Third thing is that you are not afraid of the cold or heat, because of the weather conditions,” Tam said. "Other than that, I can take care of the rest.”
Students who show interest must contact Tam, audition and set up lessons in order to begin learning the carillon.
“I wanted to play the organ since I've always played the piano, but I was bored with piano,” Reger said. “I emailed Dr. Tam since she was the organ professor at the time and asked her about playing and she suggested playing carillon to develop hand and foot coordination.”
Hellyer said he originally sought to play the piano, but found all the available lesson slots were full. He decided upon carillon after scanning the music department’s other offerings.
“[Playing the carillon is] unique and not the easiest to learn,” Hellyer said. “I thought 'why not' and decided to give it a shot since I was here.”
Students practice in Music Hall with a setup identical to the keyboard of the carillon in the campanile.
Hellyer and Reger said they practice in both the practice room and in the campanile throughout the week. The students practice in longer sessions as concerts approach.
“Practicing in the practice room is not the same as in the tower,” Reger said.
The carillonneur must hit keys that operate a clapper that strikes the bell. The weight and size of bells affect the amount of force needed to properly hit a key.
Hellyer and Reger said carillon is manually played with the exception of the hourly chimes. The carillon does not play any recorded works according to Tam.
“It’s weird practicing in the tower because you know that about all of Ames can hear you,” Hellyer said. “And it’s easier to hear because there is less going on.
Reger said that the worst part for her is climbing all the stairs to play a noon concert or practice.
“It gives you a new perspective about other music things,” Reger said. “We traveled to Rochester [Minnesota] and played there. It’s something I never appreciated before.”
Tam said she has taught approximately 50 carillon students since 1994. Some former carillon students have played other carillons across the country, she said.
The Society of ISU Carillon Alumni formed in June 2008 to provide former carillon students and interested others a means of bringing them back to campus annually and creating events.
“Through that group, we are able to group them and have them play,” Tam said.
Tam said carillon students tended to be male and/or engineering students when she began teaching. Tam added, it is more diverse now.
“Just sign up,“ Tam said. “Play and have fun.”
Students may express interest through a link on the carillon website.
“Go for it,” Hellyer said. “It’s a unique opportunity and this is one of the few places, especially in the U.S., where you can learn how to play carillon. There are not very many people who know how to play well enough to teach it.”
Students can make requests for songs which Tam will transpose for a Friday concert, Reger said. A submission form for such can be found at: music.iastate.edu/carillon.
The spring semester concert series runs until May 3, with the exception of spring break, at 11:50 a.m., Monday through Friday. The concerts will feature various carillon works, including requests and special concerts, such as Tam’s "Let Freedom Ring," a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., which was held on Wednesday, Jan. 16.
“Students should appreciate what they have here in the campanile,” Hellyer said. “It’s really cool to think that there is someone playing something different everyday with all the time and energy that goes into it.”