The Magazine of The University of Montana
The Bells! The Bells!
By Betsy Holmquist
The current Main Hall bells first serenaded campus in 1953.
After you've reached the third floor, take the narrow, winding staircase. Then clamber up a ladder bolted to the wall. Lift off the trap door above your head, and there they are - the bells of Main Hall. Forty-seven dusty bronze bells. Each one sounds a six-note chord. Each one in perfect tune with the others. Each one connected by cables, wires, and bars to the clavier on the floor below. The clavier, with its beautifully curved wooden batons (keys) and full foot pedal keyboard, is the magical, organ-like instrument that triggers the music that has graced campus for more than fifty years.
Twelve tons of bells, clappers, frames, and equipment are housed in Main Hall's bell tower, constructed in 1897 with special footings for just such an instrument. The carillon bells, cast at the Royal van Bergen Bellfoundries of Heiligerlee, Holland, and the clavier were dedicated at Homecoming on October 18, 1953. Montana Power Co. presented the clavier in honor of its 400 employees who served in World War II and Korea. At that time UM's carillon was one of the largest in the nation.
Each bell is embossed with a special seal that says "Montana State University"-UM's official name from 1917 to 1965. The bells also sport memorial inscriptions. The 1,500-pound Student Bell, for instance, says, "I sound for the student spirit and tradition."
Before the installation of the carillon, the Victory Bell was housed in the tower and rung to celebrate Grizzly football victories, often for hours. In 1947 UM President James McCain declared the bell could be rung for only one hour after each victory.
Nancy Cooper, the current carillonneur and School of Music faculty member, makes her way to the clavier each Tuesday through Friday, providing campus with its traditional noon concert. (The tower bells also sound on the hour and half-hour, keeping campus folks attuned to the time day and night.) Her strong wrists and fingers form fists that pound the batons, her feet adding the deep tones of the larger bells with the pedals below.
The bells ranged in price from $100 to $2,000 in 1953, and they all cost about $16,000. Bells 48 and 49 are still awaiting purchase and dedication, and Cooper says they would give the carillon its intended full four-octave range. She estimates each bell would cost $100,000 in today's dollars.
Nancy Cooper, UM's official carillonneur, has played the tower bells with this clavier since 1992.
Cooper has played the carillon since 1992, yet never met her predecessor, John C. Ellis, for whom the bell tower is named. At UM's Commencement on the Oval this past May, she was joined by Kevin Leiferman, her latest carillon student. He serenaded the new grads with "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" at the close of the ceremony.
With the thousands of pieces of music written just for the carillon that Cooper has collected and the thousands of noontimes, weddings, and University ceremonies calling for its accompaniment, UM's Memorial Carillon will surely continue to ring out its glorious melodies for years to come.
For Whom the Bells Toll
The Alumni Bell
"DEDICATED TO ALL THOSE FORMER STUDENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES IN DEFENSE OF THEIR COUNTRY."
Presented by the Alumni Association
2,150 lbs, 46 inches wide, $2,000*
The Butte Alumni Bell
Presented by (fourteen Butte alumni who graduated from UM in years ranging from 1919 to 1950).
83 lbs, 13.5 inches wide, $235*
The Mann Gulch Bell
Presented by students and alumni of the Forestry School and employees of the Forest Service in memory of (thirteen names, seven of them UM alums) who lost their lives fighting the Mann Gulch forest fire near Helena on August 5, 1949.
34 lbs, 8 inches wide, $185*
The Faculty Bell
"FOR ALL THOSE WHO UPHOLD THE DIGNITY OF THOUGHT AND LEARNING"
Presented by the faculty.
26 lbs, 8 inches wide, $150*
The Forestry Bell
"TO THE INSPIRATION AND DEVOTION OF ALL THOSE FORESTERS WHOSE FIGHT FOR CONSERVATION PROTECTS OUR BIRTHRIGHT."
Irwin Wycliffe Cook, 1884-1936
Mary Gaylord Cook, 1886-1946
891 lbs, 34 inches wide, $850*
The Student Bell
"I SOUND FOR THE STUDENT SPIRIT AND TRADITION"
Presented by the Associated Students of UM
1,530 lbs, 41 inches wide,