A small group gathered Wednesday afternoon to witness the raising of eight new bells to South College’s tower. The addition adds a full octave to the instrument and brings the total number of bells in the tower to 24. This addition is significant because it converts the set from the status of a chime (22 bells or fewer) to that of a carillon (23 bells or more).
The eight bronze bells were lined up on the path between South College and Memorial Chapel before they were hoisted, one by one, to the tower by a crane. The Verdin Bell Co., the contractor for the project, expects to finish installation in approximately ten days.
“South College is essentially the oldest college building [on campus], although the tower wasn’t built until 1919,” said Peter Frenzel, professor of German studies emeritus and the University’s master of the chimes. “There are very large hickory beams in the tower that hold all of the bells. We’ve had a couple of engineers come to make sure the bells don’t come crashing down on the president’s office.”
Frenzel became involved with the bells in 1998 as University Marshall. When he had a hard time finding someone to play the bells at Convocation, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
“I decided that I could play the bells and started banging away,” he said. “I got interested, and found that the music department was not.”
Although the bells are played at noon every day, Frenzel said that there is little record of the identities of bell ringers before 1999.
“Ringers tend to be quite anonymous,” he said. “You can’t see them up there, you just hear them ringing.”
Under Frenzel’s watch, the Bell & Scroll, a guild of student bell players, was founded. A plan to add new bells to the tower was hatched, and the guild recorded an album featuring the bells in the spring of 2002 to raise funds.
The practice keyboard, mandatory for learning and playing, has been rebuilt and expanded to accommodate the new bells. Key to the project is the largest bell, a g-sharp, which weighs 693 lbs.
“For a long time we wanted the g-sharp,” said Mariah Klaneski ’04, a founding member of the Bell & Scroll. “There are a lot of songs you can’t play without it. Now we won’t have to fake it anymore, and we’ll finally be able to play the Wesleyan alma mater.”
Wednesday’s raising marked the end of a long journey for the bells. Earlier this summer, the bells were cast in Holland by Petit & Fritsen, the Royal Dutch Bell Foundry. They were transported to New Orleans by ship, where they were loaded on barges and brought up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Cincinnati for fine-tuning. Finally, the bells arrived in Middletown.
“It’s taken a while,” said Klaneski. “I’ve been talking about this since I was a freshman, but the bells are here and I’m really grateful to be a part of this.”
The eight new bells join the original eleven bells, installed in 1919, which were a gift from the Class of 1863. In 1966, five additional bells were donated anonymously. It was later revealed that they were a gift from Victor L. Butterfield, the eleventh president of the University, who at the time was in the final year of his tenure.
Each of the new bells is inscribed with the name of an honoree. A ceremony on Nov. 5 will honor the donors and those to whom the bells are dedicated. At the ceremony, Klaneski will play two original compositions by Professor of Music Emeritus Richard Winslow and Professor of Music Neely Bruce on the carillon. Also that day, the wife of the late President Butterfield, Kay Butterfield, is scheduled to accept the first public recognition of the Butterfield Bells.
Until then, those in attendance were excited just to have the opportunity to see the bells before they are sealed within the tower.
“It’s unique,” said Paula Bertuch, a friend of Frenzel, about the event. “When else in your life have you seen a whole octave raised?”