If you thought the sounds of the University Chapel’s bells are made by an expert ringer toiling inside the steeple, think again: In most cases, an electronic carillon in the front of the building creates the tolls.
The carillon resembles a typical church organ. It has a handsome oak cabinet and two-tier manual keyboard. But the two instruments are very different. Each note in bell music has six individual tones, and each lasts for up to 20 seconds.
“That makes it very difficult to play,” says Jared Loewenstein (Col ’66, Grad ’68, ’92), the University’s carillonneur, who plays the instrument by hand on special occasions. He learned to play growing up in Luray, Va. He assumed his role as UVA’s third carillonneur 10 years ago. “It’s a very specialized training.”
The carillon was purchased in 2012 to replace the University’s original electronic carillon, which was a gift from the Seven Society in 1957. The Seven Society's members are acknowledged with a special toll of the chapel bells when they die–seven times in sets of seven tolls that are seven seconds apart. The tolls are followed by “The Good Old Song.”
“It’s the first acknowledgment that this person was a member of the Seven Society,” says Loewenstein, who is also the retired head of Alderman Library’s reference department.
The carillon has the equivalent of 183 bells with three variations of bell sounds—cast, Flemish and harp—that have a five-octave range. Wires run from the carillon to high-tech speakers in the steeple as well as to other locations on Grounds. The sound it reproduces when Loewenstein isn’t at the keyboard uses digital files of actual carillon bells. It can play thousands of preprogrammed songs automatically.
Loewenstein manually plays all the Seven Society tolls, as well as numerous other events, including in remembrance of the Virginia Tech tragedy victims and the anniversary of 9/11. The carillon is also played for presidential visits and significant UVA sports victories.
Pennsylvania firm Schulmerich built both carillons. The original “was just a metal case with knobs and dials in a computer cabinet,” says Loewenstein. It had the equivalent of 25 bells, the smallest amount available, which had to be played through the keyboard of the pipe organ in the Chapel.
And it could be temperamental. One July night it began playing “O Holy Night.”