Construction affects the Tower bells, Carillon Guild maintains the bells

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Junior biology major and Carillon Guild director James Kiraly explains the complexities and history of the Tower bells on the first of three levels of bells that the Tower holds with 56 in total, the largest in Texas. Last month, construction on the roof of the Main Building caused the power to the automatic chimes to shut off for a week before they were reset.

Photo Credit: Elias Huerta

Above the 32 floors of the UT Tower, the bells that usually ring daily were silent for a week in late October.

The bells are part of a carillon, an instrument consisting of large bronze bells typically controlled by a keyboard. The Tower carillon is sometimes played by the Carillon Guild, but the daily songs are played automatically by a computer. This includes the chimes every 15 minutes, Texas Our Texas at 8 a.m. and The Eyes of Texas at 9 p.m., Carillon Guild director James Kiraly said.

“One day I came in here and the Tower computer was turned off,” biology senior Kiraly said. “I tried the different plugs and they were all turned off and I wasn’t quite sure what to do.”

Kiraly discovered the power had been cut to the computer because of the Main Building construction, which caused the automatic chimes to stop playing. He contacted the administration and the power was reset after a week.

“(Administration) submitted a work order and they just reset the power and it started going back on automatically,” Kiraly said.

Rhonda Weldon, director of communications for financial and administrative services, said the construction is limited to the roof of the Main Building and issues with the Tower clock or bells are fixed manually by the facilities staff.

History freshman Jake Jackson said he noticed the construction to the Main Building while walking to his class in the Life Science Library.

“I don’t really know what it’s for or what they’re doing … it’s all very mysterious,” Jackson said.

Despite students hearing the bells daily, not many students know about the Carillon Guild or how the bells work, Kiraly said.

“It’s a pretty obscure instrument and community, simply because of its nature,” Kiraly said. “You could ask most people on the street and they wouldn’t know what a carillon is.”

The Carillon Guild is a group of nine students who play the carillon for special events such as commencement and memorial services. The guild also has a concert once a year that is livestreamed for students to watch. Kiraly said the guild tries to meet every week to play a song on the bells.

“Whenever you hear anything besides the 15-minute chimes or the automated songs at 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., we are playing them,” Kiraly said.

Kiraly reached out to the Carillon Guild after hearing the bells when he first came to campus. He said he is fortunate to play the carillon because not many universities have the resources to maintain a carillon guild.

“When I was visiting UT, before I was coming here, I heard someone playing up in the bells and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool. I want to do that,’” Kiraly said. “I’m really grateful to have this experience to work with this unique program in our University and carry on this tradition of carillon playing.”

Economics freshman Rohin Balkundi said he appreciates hearing the bells while walking around campus.

“The bells strike me as something as an added benefit to being at UT,” Balkundi said.