Two Sundays ago, another mass email circulated around campus criticizing Harkness Tower’s bells. While we appreciate the reference to “Mean Girls” that made it into this rendition of the email, we challenge those who try to silence us to instead take a moment to listen.
We take pride in what we do as musicians, both as Yalies and within the broader community of carillonneurs. Each of our members completes an intensive nine-week audition process to join our group, and we consistently graduate students who pass a nationally adjudicated carillon exam after their time in the Yale Guild. Many come back years later to perform during our summer concert series, which also features guest carillonneurs from around the world. It is a privilege for us to play the beautiful carillon in Harkness Tower and to have a role in creating the sounds that uniquely signal to us that we are at Yale, and we are home.
For us and for many others, the carillon is much more than just a musical instrument, and certainly much more than a source of noise on campus. During the past year, we have helped a Yale alumnus propose to his girlfriend, welcomed over 1,000 community members, professors and students into the tower for tours during President Salovey’s inaugural weekend and joined bells across the state of Connecticut in tolling in memory of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. We play not just for our own love of the carillon, but also for those who listen. Many students even request more carillon music, such as to celebrate our Men’s Hockey championship win last April. Most recently, the Senior Class Council has reached out to the Guild to incorporate tower tours as part of their Senior Class Gift fundraising campaign.
We do realize that it may be uncomfortable at times for those who live close by the carillon, but our ringing schedule, chosen in conjunction with the University administration to coincide with meal times, has been designed to limit disruptions. This fall we pushed our evening ring later, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., so as not to interfere with Master’s Teas. We honor respectful requests for silence when musical performances or outdoor events in the neighboring colleges coincide with our ringing times. We do not play during reading or finals periods, and we have lengthened the pauses between our pieces in order to clear the air for our listeners.
One of our most common criticisms is the repetition of songs. However, a Guild policy requires our carillonneurs not to repeat music within the week, and we work with our teacher Ellen Dickinson, a Yale Guild alumna, to improve our technique and expand our repertoire throughout our time here at Yale. The repetition of pieces at the beginning of this semester was a result of our efforts to record for an annual audition for the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America professional-level certification. The majority of this recording was completed over winter break when most students were away from campus. Besides being carillonneurs, we are fellow Yalies and do our best to respect everyone on campus. We aim to bring beautiful, daily music concerts to the Yale community.
Rather than demanding our silence, visit us on a tour of Harkness Tower to see what we do for yourself. If you do, you can ring our 43-ton instrument to notify the Yale campus of the hour. Or request a song, and we will incorporate it into our repertoire that very week. Reach out to any of our current 23 student carillonneurs who continue to put in the time and effort to learn and improve on this unique instrument — which truly is one of a kind, since every carillon varies in weight, size, number of bells and even key placement.
We love sharing our Tower with guests. This past fall, we received an email from a Yale alumnus asking for our help in proposing to his girlfriend. He wanted the bells to ring out their favorite song while he proposed at the bottom of the Tower. We accepted his request, but also invited him to come up to the top to propose. It was their first time up Harkness Tower even though they spent four years at Yale as undergraduates. After she said yes, we continued to play their favorite songs as they descended down the stairs.
You don’t need to wait until your proposal to make a trip up to the Tower. The 284 steps are indeed a climb, but a beautiful view and instrument await you at the top. We hope the carillon, which plays such a meaningful role in our time here, will be a part of your Yale experience as well.
Katie Leiby is a senior in Berkeley College. Lynnli Wang is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. They are the co-chairs of the Guild of Carillonneurs. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org .