UNI Guild of Carillonneurs awaits the return of the bells

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  • UNI’s practice carillon has been a very valuable tool for the Guild since the bells were removed from the Campanile in October.

  • In addition to the practice carillon concert, members of the Guild have also had the chance to play the carillon in Iowa State’s Campanile, as well as meet with the Guild from Yale.

  • On March 26, the Guild of Carillonneurs held a concert on the practice carillon in Jebe Hall in the Gallagher Bluedorn.

  • Some members of the Guild of Carillonneurs had the unique opportunity to help break the mold for the new bells that were cast during the Our Tomorrow campaign launch this past October. Since then, the group has been collaborating with carillonneurs from other universities, cataloguing UNI’s collection of carillon music and staying active on social media.

  • The Campanile has been silent since the bells were removed in October for refurbishing. The bells are expected to return to campus at the beginning of May.

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Rising above all else on the University of Northern Iowa’s campus stands the Campanile. In regular times its bells on the hour and the weekly Friday performances were looked upon fondly by passing students and faculty. Nevertheless, for the past five months, the tower has remained silent. The overarching Our Tomorrow campaign is the cause of this silence, as the Campanile and its renovation were included in the $250 million movement. 

Until the bells ring again, the UNI Guild of Carillonneurs has been working hard to prepare for another hundred years of performance and entertainment. The Guild of Carillonneurs is the musical organization on campus that plays the carillon, or the collection of bells at the top of the clocktower. President of the UNI Guild of Carillonneurs Emily Clouser states regarding the carillon, “While the bells have been away, the Guild has been busy practicing and further developing our playing technique for the carillon. It’s a unique enough instrument that the technique takes a while to perfect —especially considering most of us had never played one or knew what one was before coming to college.”

A carillon is somewhat like a piano with different keys representing different notes. Clouser expands on this by saying, “However, a carillon keyboard is much larger and more spaced out than a Piano keyboard. So, we use our fists to strike the wooden pegs, which pull the wires connected to the clappers within the bells through a radial system. When the wire is pulled down, the clapper strikes the side of the bell, sounding the chime.”

The Guild of Carillonneurs consists of an auditioned group of ten UNI students from multiple majors and disciplines. Even though the bells are down, that hasn’t stopped the Guild from doing other carillon-related outings. Vice President of the Guild Ryan Gruman states, “After the bell removal, the UNI Guild hosted the Guild from Yale during their carillon tour. We shared a joint performance together and then traveled to Iowa State University, where both groups got to tour and play the Carillon in the Campanile on ISU’s campus. We also got to look at ISU’s traveling campanile, which is a small playable model that the ISU Guild takes to different events throughout the year.”

Most recently, on Sunday, March 26, 2023, the Guild of Carillonneurs held a preliminary carillon performance from Jebe Hall at the Gallagher-Bluedorn. This thirty-minute performance consisted of songs that included the UNI fight song and Alma Mater via carillon. Clouser stated regarding this pre-season concert, “Yesterday we held a Carillon Concert on our practice carillon located in Jebe Hall to begin building excitement for the bells’ return. We had many students, alumni, faculty, and community members attend both in Jebe and over live stream. The concert lasted roughly a half hour and featured duet performances from all current members of our Guild. Also, Sandy Nordahl did an excellent job at lighting the practice carillon and transforming Jebe into the perfect venue for this concert.”

As a student organization, the Guild is determined to be as active on campus as possible. Clouser says, “Our members have also been active at Student Organization Fairs for admitted students and on social media keeping students, community members, alumni, and faculty up to date on project progress. Another big project we took on was organizing and cataloging all the music and carillon pieces that have accumulated at the top of the campanile over the years.” Clouser also stated in our interview that the Guild has over 300 carillon-specific musical pieces in its collection, with some written by late UNI Alum and University Carillonneur Robert Byrnes.

Another exciting thing on the minds of the Guild is that the Campanile tower will celebrate its 100-year birthday next year in 2024. When the 2-million-dollar renovation is complete courtesy of “Our Tomorrow”, the Campanile will have in total-58 bells allowing for a 4-octave range. This will make the UNI Campanile the most comprehensive Carillon tower in the State of Iowa. According to a 2018 interview by UNI President Mark Nook, the Campanile represents UNI more than most realize, “The Campanile is a metaphor for UNI and what we are all about. The University of Northern Iowa provides a very solid foundation through the education students receive here that allows our graduates to chase their dreams, to reach for the sky, and create a life that enhances the lives of the people around them. The solid granite base of the Campanile is much like the education one receives at UNI.”

Due to the Campanile being a campus icon in the eyes of many, it is well overdue for the renovation and beautification it is currently receiving. Nevertheless, a consequence of this progress is a little bit more quietness around campus on the hour. All in all, the work being done this year will allow all Northern Iowans to enjoy the bells and music of the Campanile for decades to come.