on the job: sue wood
What is your title and how long have you been with the UI?
I'm chimesmaster for the Altgeld Tower chimes. I've been with the chimes concert program since 1971, and chimesmaster since 1994. I earned my PhD here and did postdoctoral work at the Institute for Environmental Studies. After that, I worked with the Illinois Natural History Survey, until I retired.
How did you get involved with playing the chimes at the UI?
When I came to campus for graduate school, I played the chimes at the University Lutheran Church, a 25-bell Dutch carillon. I'd taken lessons in carillon playing at Rees Memorial Carillon in Springfield. In 1971, I decided to see what the UI's bells were like.
Are you the only one who plays the chimes?
Oh, no. We have students and a staff member who also play the chimes concerts: Evan McNabb and Russ Duszak, undergraduate students; Bonnie Wilson and Jim Miller, graduate students; and Chris Marx, a staff member [who works at the Grainger Engineering Library]. Chimesmaster and chimes player positions are unpaid, volunteer positions.
What are the requirements to be a chimes player?
You have to be able to read music. This is a less-refined instrument, so our players don't have to be music students.
Are the chimes played at specific times?
We can play the chimes during any class passing [the time between classes]. We try to make sure that there is a concert weekdays from 12:50 to 1 p.m. during the school year. We also have special concerts for special occasions, and do requests. We also try to play regularly when classes are not in session. The chimes are fitted with a Seth Thomas Clock and mechanism that plays the Westminster Chimes [tune] and strikes the hour and at each quarter-hour between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. They used to play at each quarter-hour around the clock.
How is the music selected?
Every chimes player has his or her favorites. Some of the music has to be transposed to fit the keyboard. We have 15 bells, from low D to G one and one-half octaves, except for low D-sharp and both F-naturals. I like to play a hymn that is appropriate to the day or holiday. We always try to play "Hail to the Orange" and we all try to learn to play "Illinois Loyalty," which takes all 15 bells. I play an opening, the "Compleat Change Ringer," which is a traditional piece. It normally takes two minutes, but I only play a small portion of it. I'm a fuddy-duddy and I like the music I've grown up with. Each of our chimes players has a particular preference. One liked TV themes, so we have the music from "M*A*S*H," the "Mickey Mouse Club" and such. Another girl who was here for four years did the theme from "Star Wars." It was her signature piece and she played it in every concert. Another chimes player was into Gershwin music, and someone else liked Irish music. They would take the music they enjoy and rewrite it for our keyboard. I've talked with chimes players at Cornell University and they wanted copies of some of our music and they've sent us copies of some of theirs, so we have a little of everything.
What's most enjoyable about being chimesmaster?
It's the pleasure of making music that sounds out to the general public, but is also incognito. I make music anonymously. There's also enough physical exertion involved with playing that if I come in and something is bothering me or I'm out of sorts, I've worked it out by the time I'm done. I have a sense of satisfaction when I go out of here. It's also a lot of fun to introduce this to people [who come for the tours or are interested in playing]. It's usually the highlight of their day when they visit or get an opportunity to play.
Tours of the Altgeld Hall Chime Tower are from 12:30 to 1 p.m. weekdays. (Enter through 323 Altgeld Hall.) Chimesmaster emeritus, Albert E. Marien, who served as UI's chimesmaster from 1958 to 1994, worked throughout his career to convert the UI's 15-bell chime to a 48-bell carillon. The UI Foundation has established a fund to receive money for the project. For more information about the Bells of Altgeld Hall fund-raising effort, contact Roger Martin, associate provost, 333-4523.