Secrets of the Memorial Chapel bell tower


By Jaclyn Mandart

On the experience:

I first noticed the bells on campus while walking to lunch at West.  It’s a sound that is often ignored until a familiar melody jumps out at you. For me it was the Harry Potter theme.

I didn’t think much about it until the end of my first year when a friend of mine, who was about to be a senior, mentioned that she was going to be playing the bells the following year.

I immediately told her that I would do anything to get the job the year after. I bothered her incessantly as soon as fall term started and by spring term sophomore year I started going up to the bell tower with her about once a week to learn the ropes.  I’ve been playing since then and I have loved it!

I go up two or three days a week during common lunch (Steve and I switch off) and we play for about 15 minutes a day.  Sometimes we are asked to play for special events during ReUnion or at commencement and I even got to play at a friend’s wedding last summer.

It’s kind of a scary walk to the tower.  It’s an old building and the bell tower hasn’t been used consistently since its construction  in 1925. Once, I heard about a Union president and his wife who were buried in or near the chapel, so I feel a little better when I have some real life company. But once you get to the bells themselves, it’s a pretty neat perch.  There’s a post where a bunch of names of former bell players are carved and there’s a ton of old music, graduation programs, and newspapers.

Exploring the bell tower and the ins and outs of the chapel is a pretty exciting opportunity that not many people get to experience.

I’m personally honored to be  part of the life of campus in such a unique way!

On the music:

It has been two years since Mary Kate Baumann approached me about a bell playing position at Union.

Having long played the piano and read sheet music, I became a suitable candidate as a young apprentice to the previous bell master, Alex Handin ‘10.

Throughout the winter term of my sophomore year, I ascended the stairs in Memorial Chapel twice a week during the common lunch hour to learn the finer workings of the bells. By spring term of that same year, I was promoted from the position of apprentice to become Union’s newest master bell player.

I still play the same music biweekly, spanning genres from hymns to New Age compositions. I also play a few modern movie theme songs, from the likes of Jurassic Park and The Lord of the Rings. Currently, my favorite songs are “Chariots of Fire,” “Amazing Grace,” “Hey Jude,” “Tetris,” and “I Believe I Can Fly.” Unfortunately, there are only 11 notes available on the bells,  but I am always open to playing new songs upon request.


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