The Carillon and I

Author: Jason Strohl

Song carts for the Carillon. Original tape based format on left, current digital format on right.

I have a special relationship in my life. Besides my wife, co-workers, and cats, there is one other who needs my attention from time to time. That is the Penn Carillon. Since its grand un-boxing in mid-2004, we have been through dozens of song updates, a few daylight saving time changes, a brief outage caused by wire-munching squirrels, and even an on-campus wedding where the bride and groom requested that I program the Carillon to play Beatles songs to cap off their special day. Even as I type this, the Carillon sits next to me, dutifully waiting for the clock to chime out a reminder of the time across College Green. We are inseparable, and this is the Carillon’s story, in brief.

The original carillon.

If you have been on campus for any length of time since 2004 when the old Carillon was replaced with a newer model, then you have probably heard Westminster bells chiming on the hour, and popular songs ringing out at exactly noon and 6 PM each day.  Though real bells have never been used to my knowledge, the old Carillon was a large machine housed in our basement here at the Sweeten Alumni House. The original Carillon was donated in the late 80s by Michel T. Huber, W’53, ASC’56, (former Director of Alumni Relations), and alumni and friends, in memory of Mr. Huber’s daughter, Michelle, ENG’87, W’87, and fiance, Bryan D. Giles, ENG’87, W’87, who lost their lives in a car accident approximately one year after graduation. For years, the Carillon would sound out the time throughout campus, with speakers on Irvine, Grad Towers, and other locations, until one day in the late 90s when it ceased to function.

The new carillon.

Fast forward to 2004 when the new Carillon was purchased and installed, made possible again through a generous donation from Mr. Huber. New speakers were placed on top of the Sweeten House, and a fantastic repertoire of popular and traditional songs were loaded onto the machine’s now computerized memory (the old Carillon worked off of magnetic tapes) to supplement the traditional Westminster chimes. Recently I realized that after many years of listening to the same songs twice a day (Bridge over Troubled Water is a fantastic song when set to bells, but after the 60th time or so it gets a bit old) it was time to consult the song catalog and freshen up the list of tunes that the Carillon is capable of playing.

Next time you are on campus at noon I hope you will drop by College Green to enjoy John William’s score for Star Wars…Carillon-style.

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