The Bells

The 15 bronze bells weigh a total of seven and one-half tons. They were cast by McShane Foundry, Baltimore, Maryland, and installed in the upper chamber of the bell tower in 1920. The largest bell weighs over one and a half tons and measures five feet in diameter. It is dedicated to Dr. Edmund Janes James, University President from 1904 to 1920. The second-largest bell is dedicated to the U.S. School of Military Aeronautics, which was on campus during World War I. The third-largest bell is inscribed: "Through these chimes the Classes of 1914-21 call the multiplying and majestic company of students and graduates to join them in gratitude, loyalty, and devotion to their Alma Mater."

The Performing Room is seven stories above ground level. It is half the size of a regular classroom and contains the playing keyboard (also called a clavier, console, or chimestand), a practice keyboard, a music library, and benches for visitors. Except for its sound-generating mechanism, the practice keyboard is identical to the playing keyboard.

The playing keyboard is seven feet in width, and its wooden levers represent an octave and a half of tones. When a lever is pushed down about four inches, a steel cable running from the lever to the clapper inside the bell moves the clapper, causing it to hit the sound bow of the bell. The longest cable from keyboard to clapper measures 68.5 feet.

The scale of the keyboard for the 15 bells ranges from a low D to G one and one-half octaves above, with the exception of low D-sharp and both F-naturals. Because of these tone exceptions and the limited keyboard range, much of the music in the Performing Room library must be transposed and/or rearranged for the chime. Since there are no F-natural bells, music is usually transposed to keys containing F-sharp, such as the keys of G, D, or A. Out-of-range notes must be lowered or raised an octave or replaced.

The ringing of the chimes on the quarter-hours and hours is controlled automatically. The tune (the "Westminster Chime" of London's Big Ben) involves four bells and a separate set of five hammers outside the bells (one bell has two hammers - one for the hourly strike). These hammers are activated by a Seth Thomas clock mechanism (a gift of the Class of 1922) housed in a small room on the Performing Room roof. The sound of the first bell of each quarter-hour marks the time accurately. The first hourly strike marks the hour.

keyboard

 

Maintained by chimes@illinois.edu