At noon, The Beatles may pay a visit to Penn’s campus with a classic rendition of “Lady Madonna.” Following a round of traditional church bells, John Williams may provide an encore with excerpts from the Star Wars soundtrack.
For more than two decades, a carillon — a mechanical instrument that simulates the sounds a bell tower makes — has greeted thousands of Penn students walking by College Green.
Every day, the carillon, which is kept in Sweeten Alumni House — located near College Green on Locust Walk — chimes Westminster bells on the hour between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. At noon and 6 p.m., those bells are followed by an array of popular songs stored on the machine’s electronic database — from Beethoven to Simon & Garfunkel to Penn’s own “The Red and the Blue.”
While most Penn students hear the sounds of the carillon as little more than a reminder that they are going to be late for class, the machine holds a much deeper history.
Michel Huber, a 1953 Wharton graduate and former director of Alumni Relations, donated the carillon to the University in the late 1980s. The donation was made in memory of Huber’s daughter, Michele, and her fiance, Bryan Giles — both 1987 Wharton and Engineering graduates. The couple died in a car crash soon after graduating from Penn.
“The two of them loved sitting together on College Green, so if we were going to create a gift in memory of them it seemed fitting that whatever it was could be heard out there,” said Huber, a former Daily Pennsylvanian staff writer. “The carillon seemed to be a very lovely thing that could enhance Penn students’ appreciation of the campus, so we went through with it.”
For about a decade, Huber’s donation was part of Penn students’ lives on a daily basis, with its music sounding out the time of day from speakers positioned all across campus, including locations at Irvine Auditorium, Houston Hall and the Quad.
One day in the late 1990s, however, the carillon stopped working. It wasn’t until 2004 that today’s carillon was reinstalled as a replacement for the original. The new machine cost about $12,000 and was funded once again by Huber, said Kristina Clark, director of operations for Alumni Relations.
Today’s carillon requires “virtually no looking after” apart from a yearly maintenance checkup, said Assistant Director for Marketing and Communications in Alumni Relations Jason Strohl, who is considered the unofficial “keeper of the carillon” by his colleagues. Strohl explained that the machine is programmed to play automatically on the hour.
The carillon itself stands no more than three feet tall and has a small slot to insert a computerized memory card that stores the daily music to supplement the Westminster chimes.
Whereas the original carillon could be heard across campus, though, today’s is only connected to four large speakers on top of the Alumni House.
Still, “the carillon has sort of become ingrained in the lives of Penn students, whether they know about [its background] or not,” Clark said. “It’s become part of the overall campus feel.”
For Huber, the carillon serves as a reminder of Michele and Bryan whenever he returns to campus.
“They were young, they were happy, and they were in love. I know they’d appreciate this is here today,” he said. “It’s good to know that they’ll never be forgotten.”Comments powered by Disqus
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