Carillon Marks Centennial in November; Looks Toward Future

On Friday, November 3 the carillon bells located in Sather Tower (the Campanile) will mark their 100th anniversary. Although originally cast in 1915 by the John Taylor Bell foundry of Loughborough, England, the bells were not installed in Sather Tower until 1917 due to delays caused by World War I. The bells were first played for three hours on November 3, 1917, joined by all the bells and whistles of Berkeley.

“The bells of Berkeley are so strongly integrated into the daily life of the campus community that they are the aural icons of Berkeley,” noted University Carillonist Jeff Davis.

To celebrate the 100-year mark of the carillon, Davis will be inviting a variety of carillonists and composers to collaborate on performances throughout the year. The festivities will culminate in the summer with the 2018 UC Berkeley Carillon Festival. These activities will also seek to raise awareness and funds for much needed repairs to the instrument.

Although the UC Berkeley Carillon enjoys fame well beyond the Bay Area, long overdue maintenance threatens to silence the bells.  Crucial improvements were made in 1983, but significant repairs are still needed. For example, the transmission mechanism on any carillon generally needs to be redone every twenty years, a length of time that we have long-since surpassed.  At Berkeley, routine upkeep is exacerbated by the location of the instrument directly across from the Golden Gate, a location that, while beautiful, is extraordinarily rough on the instrument.  The result is that rust and other mechanical problems caused by the uninterrupted action of salt air and wind, have made the instrument increasingly difficult to play.

We appeal to everyone in the Berkeley community, past and present, to help renovate and rejuvenate this true treasure of our shared life.

The UC Berkeley Carillon has enjoyed incremental progress over the decades. The original twelve bell chime did not have enough notes to play pieces such as the National Anthem. So in 1978, the Class of 1928, as a fiftieth anniversary gift to the University, decided to raise funds to add a few bells so more tunes could be played. The improvements to the instrument sparked interest throughout the world, and in 1983, thanks to a generation donation by Jerry and Evelyn Hemmings Chambers, the carillon expanded to 61 bells.

In the decades since, Berkeley’s carillon has only grown in international stature.  The acquisitions of the carillon library include rare recordings, manuscripts and books. The carillon instructional program has grown to the point where it is now one of the largest in the world.  The professional playing staff is one of the largest in North America, and the equal to any in the carillon centers of Europe.  The compositions and arrangements that have been created at Berkeley represent a great flowering of carillon music, and are played constantly on practically every carillon world-wide.

The centennial of Sather Tower was celebrated on February 3, 2015 and featured a special installation and performance including a unique composition of bells (both recorded and live) and lighting modulated in real time by data from the UC Berkeley seismometer adjacent to the Hayward Fault. The composition performed on the carillon was written by Music Chair and faculty member Edmund Campion.