A brighter sound for the carillon

Bell specialist completes repairs at bell tower

March 17, 2020
Author: Imran Ghori
March 17, 2020

The carillon at the UC Riverside Bell Tower is ringing a little clearer and brighter following a recent maintenance project.

The long-needed work consisted of cleaning, repairing, or replacing the many components that make up the carillon. It also got some improved technology with the installation of an electric control system that allows for remote programming.

“it’s kind of like a big tune-up,” said Daneca Stevens, a project manager with UCR’s Office of Planning, Design and Construction.

The carillon has 48 bells of different sizes and shapes, ranging from 28 pounds to more than 5,000 pounds, housed in a chamber at the top of the tower held up by three levels of wood and steel support beams. 

The bells are played with a keyboard of hand and foot pedals, similar to a piano or organ, which connect through vertical wires to transmission pads in the bell chamber. A series of horizontal wires connect from the transmission pads to bell clappers.

A carillon specialist who examined the instrument last year recommended the maintenance work, describing grease buildup in the transmission pads and clappers while some foot pads and hand and foot pedals had fallen loose.

A three-person team from the Georgetown, Ohio-based firm of Meeks, Watson and Company spent a week in the bell tower the first week of March working on the carillon.

“They’ll all be greased and cleaned up, so the carillon will get a nice smooth action out of the system,” said Bill Meeks, a partner with the company, pointing out the transmission pads.

Meeks also added felt pads to the keyboard and rubber soles to the foot pedals. Two other employees worked in the belfry where the bells are housed, installing the new electronic system with the assistance of two Facilities Services employees. They also worked on the bells’ clappers to ensure they strike correctly and sound right.

“It’s a very tight instrument to work in,” said Bill’s son Josh Meeks, who spent much of the time crawling and climbing around in the belfry.

The new control system includes six large cast iron balls attached to a bar that were installed to six bells. It will allow for limited programming such as ringing the bells on the hour or simple musical pieces, Stevens said.

UCR’s carillon, with its 48 bells, is one of about only 40 grand carillons around the country, Bill Meeks said.

“They’ve got a beautiful tower and a beautiful carillon,” he said.

The company is one of only five bell foundries companies in the country that can service and build carillons, Meeks said.

“It’s definitely a niche career,” he said. “There’s not a lot of us around.”

David Christensen, UCR’s carillonneur for over 30 years, played the carillon a day after the project was completed for a recital and noticed an immediate improvement.

“From a playing standpoint, the key action is much smoother now, with keys responding better to the touch of the player,” he said. “The bells also now have a brighter sound and the instrument plays and sounds very good.”