A new set of bells will soon be ringing out on campus at the University of Chicago. The giant metal bells were dedicated Aug. 4 in Hutchinson Courtyard in honor of 12 notable people with ties to the University, to Chicago or to bell ringing, including President Barack Obama, Carl Sandburg, first UChicago President William Rainey Harper, Jane Addams and Jean Baptiste Point du Sable.
The 10 bells, which were cast in England, are a bit lighter than the old ones and soon will be installed in Mitchell Tower, joining the 10 existing bells put in place more than a century ago.
At the dedication, Michele Rasmussen, the dean of students, talked about the rich history of change ringing at UChicago and thanked the donors whose gift made the bells possible. “Gifts like this can have a transformative impact on the students here.”
Christian J. Haller, AM’72, and Helen D. Haller donated money for the bells, their upkeep and for a ringing program for students. Chris Haller spoke about the close-knit community of bell ringing, which he discovered as a student at UChicago.
He said change ringing is a “rewarding challenge,” which involves “people working together toward a common goal.”
The bell tower that soars over the Reynolds Club was modeled after a 1509 tower at Oxford’s Magdalen College, and the first chimes were dedicated in 1908 in honor of Alice Freeman Palmer, the first dean of women in the graduate schools. The Palmer bells weigh from 564 pounds up to 2,443 pounds.
Change-ringing bells are part of a long and storied tradition. It originated about 350 years ago in England and involves a group of people rhythmically ringing a set of tuned bells in coordination through a series of changing sequences that are set by mathematical principles and executed according to patterns. Instead of a conventional melody, a rich cascade of sound is achieved.
Today, there are about 50 towers dotted across the U.S. with English change-ringing bells.
The old bearings and the platform that the bells were on were problematic and the old bells were a bit difficult to handle. The new bells will provide a superior result, the ringers said. The old bells will remain and will be used as chimes, so they will no longer be pulled with ropes to ring out.
The Guild of Change Ringers at UChicago meets twice a week to practice the change ringing that is used at Mitchell Tower. Below the tower holding the bells, the group pulls on ropes to ring the bells, which fully rotate and strike clappers. The carillon at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, by contrast, is played with a keyboard.