Mitchell Tower, University of Chicago

Mitchell Tower, University of Chicago

If you had to name American universities that are especially pro-bell, the University of Chicago would be near the top of the list. First, it has the stunning Rockefeller carillon which I had the great pleasure of performing on for years. Second, it has a ring of ten bells in nearby Mitchell Tower. (These bell towers are within two blocks of each other. I’m thinking we need to arrange a “dueling bell towers” of sorts.) Only one other American university campus boasts a carillon and ring—The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Tom Farthing, the fearless leader of the intrepid change ringers, showed me around the tower and the English ringing tradition. Change ringing is a method in which a set of bells are rung one at a time, each by a single person, in mathematical permutations, so that the in each iteration each bell is played only once and the exact order of bells is never repeated. See my other posts on the method here and here.

Here we get a close up of a bell with a muted clapper. The bell is muted so as to not disturb neighbors during practice sessions. The clapper strikes the bell as it is swung around from top to bottom.

And here is what the ringing looks like from below. Tom pulls on the sally (the woolen grip) to just pull the bell down and lets it swing back up. Here he is playing along with a computer program that reproduces the sound of the bells (again, great for practice sessions!) Tom makes it look easy, but it’s actually difficult to time the pull just right—and not pull too hard or too soft—to allow the bell to smoothly rotate down and back up.

One of the trickiest parts of change ringing is preparing the bells for a performance. Normally the bells are in rest position with the mouth hanging down. Before ringing, though, someone has to get each bell swinging enough to bring the mouth up to the top and let it balance there (the bells are rung up.) Kind of like getting this wooden acrobat to stand straight up.

Thank you, Tom, and the University of Chicago Guild of Change Ringers for hosting me!

3 thoughts on “Mitchell Tower, University of Chicago

    1. Hello.
      This is Mick Johnson, Tower captain from Eastry , Kent , England. I have a Doves Guide of World Wide church bells. I will be in the USA hot a holiday next June and am hoping to visit some of your countries bell towers.
      Yours David Michael Johnson.

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