By Ali Mierzejewski
The SU campus has a fever and the only prescription is more Crouse bell.
“You aren’t afraid of heights, are you?” Julia Kelley yelled down from halfway up the ladder leading to Crouse College’s bell tower. Kelley easily maneuvered her way up through the chilly air, pausing only to point out former chime players’ graffiti covering the walls. Samantha Lifson, one of her newest Chimesmasters, followed more carefully.
When reaching the top of the tower, Kelley sifted through the binder of songs to find the first song of the evening, “Westminster Chimes.”
“You want to start us off?” asked Kelley. Shrugging, Lifson tapped softly on the handles of the chimes, doing a silent run-through of the opening song. Under the vigilance of a stuffed Quasimodo doll, Lifson checked the time: 5:45 p.m. Time to play.
Kelley, a senior music and magazine journalism dual major, is the head of the Chimesmasters group on campus.(Read More) The student-run group has between 12 and 15 members, including Lifson, a junior advertising and women and gender studies dual major. Kelley’s duties include scheduling when members will play the chimes. The bells are rung three times per day, five days per week. Usually each member plays twice per week.
The Chimemasters don’t hold auditions to join the group, but Kelley does make sure they know how to read music. On rare occasions, a member can go to the tower and play well. The group has a training set of chimes for new members, which is much easier to play than the actual chimes.
According to the VPA Web site, the 10 bells housed in the tower were a gift from John Crouse – along with the building – in 1888. When rung, the bells can be heard from a mile away.
Members of Delta Kappa Epsilon and Alpha Phi were the first to ring the bells in 1889. The band fraternities took over the responsibility until 1991, when the Chimesmasters were formed.
The songs heard across campus are played from songbooks passed down to the different groups in charge of chiming the bells.
The songbooks are full of selections arranged by former players. They consist of songs ranging from classic folk tunes to Beatles hits. The Chimesmasters also have an separate binder for Christmas and winter songs.
Despite the many binders, song selection is rather restricted. The chimes only produce nine musical notes and one accidental, a B flat. Without more accidentals, it’s difficult to arrange many songs.
The Chimesmasters also play for special occasions, even if unscheduled. The Chimesmasters will play “The Fight Song” on game days or when the Orange win a big game. During Remembrance Week they will play “Amazing Grace.”
“When Obama won the election, me and another Chimesmaster, Joe, went up there [the tower] and played patriotic songs at midnight,” Kelley said.
Kelley has always wanted to start the tradition of chiming “Let It Snow” as the first snowflakes fall every season, but timing has interfered with her plans.
“You would rush up there and play ‘Let It Snow,’ regardless of what day it was,” Kelley said. “But it has never come into effect because it’s always, you know, 3:30 in the morning and then you wake up the next morning and there’s snow on the ground.”
As a graduating senior, Kelley will soon end her reign as leader and organizer of the group. She still hasn’t decided who will succeed her as head
Chimesmaster, but she does know one quality they will need to survive as the Chimesmaster, she said: “It has to be someone who is really passionate about it.”
Let Them Ring
At every fifteen minute interval, you can hear:
Westminster Chimes: the length depends on whether it is being played at the 15-minute or 45-minute mark
Chimesmaster(s)’ Choice: A 15-minute set of whatever songs the Chimesmaster(s) want to play at that time.
Westminster Chimes: the length depends on the time of day. On the hour, the C bell is chimed for whatever hour it is (i.e. six tones at 6:00)
When they ring:
Monday through Friday