Embrace UT’s Bell Tower

Tommy Wan, Forum Editor

As we stroll through campus or hastily scurry to our next class, the UT Tower occasionally rings its bells with well-known melodies. 

The tower bells are known as the Carillon: a multi-belled pitched percussion instrument that’s played similarly to a keyboard. As players foster musical connections with the carillon, each key rings a large bell in the tower. 

Every echoing hymn that resonates through campus reminds us of our collective values and traditions. Consequently, students and faculty should take a moment to listen, appreciate and reflect on University traditions that permeate through the UT Carillon.

Officially named the “Kniker Carillon,” the UT Carillon is operated by the UT Guild of Carillonneurs. The guild is composed of students who maintain regular ringing schedules, facilitate community music education, oversee student interest in the Carillon and perform at formal University functions. 

“I found out what a Carillon was the summer before my freshman year,” said Gia Cabacungan, biology junior and the Director of the UT Guild of Carillonneurs. “I like to play video game songs. My favorite song to play is the fairy fountain theme from Legend of Zelda. (Playing the song) on the Carillon is really fast and fun to kind (play) up and down the instrument.”

From university traditions like the “Eyes of Texas” and Baroque pieces to the modern classics of “Bad Romance” and “The Final Countdown, students, faculty and our fellow Austinites hear a diverse range of songs from the bells.

“Sometimes the Eyes of Texas or random songs (are played) in the evening, which is quite fun and entertaining,” said electrical and computer engineer freshman Arjun Bala-Metha. “The bells oftentimes brighten up my day when I’ve had a very tiring day.”

The Kniker Carillon is the largest in Texas – making it our state’s flagship bell instrument. As students of the guild prepare to play their weekly evening concerts, they trek up the steps to the UT Tower’s south entrance. After heading up towards the twenty-seventh floor, students wind upwards until they reach a compact carillon room. This room is engulfed by the monstrous instrument near the clock face.

The carillonneurs also play pieces tuned to the season or responsive to current events.

“The main carillonneur, who was here before all of us, was Tom Anderson,” Cabacungan said. “He played from 1967 to 2013, until his death. He had a routine … he would play Christmas carols around December. A couple of weeks ago, after the shooting in Michigan, one of our members went up and played their alma mater song. It’s nice to have these tributes to tragedies and shows of respect.”

The UT Bell Tower solidifies the University’s legacy – and all students can get involved. 

“Recently we had a lot more interest because we’ve been getting a lot more popularity,” Cabacungan said. “The plan for this upcoming year is that we will send out an interest Google Forms with a link on our social media. We fill spots when people graduate.”

The bell and ringing will remain for decades to come. You’ll remember them now, just as you will when you’re back decades later. For students, faculty, parents and alumni: the next time you hear our carillon bells ring, take a moment to internalize our continuous history. 

Take a moment to listen. Take a moment to reflect. 

Wan is a civil engineering and Plan II freshman from Houston, Texas.