For Whom Tolls the Bells

A lot has changed in the world since 1967. The Beatles are done, Vietnam is over, we reached the moon (we think), Bobby Kennedy and the great Martin Luther King Jr. are unfortunately no longer with us.

But a lot of things haven’t. We still don’t know who shot JFK, England still hasn’t won another World Cup, no one cares who Justin Beiber is, and Tom Anderson still plays his 56 bells.

If that last one sounds odd to you, then you need to brush up on your University of Texas personalities. Anderson has played the Carillon for Longhorn passer-byes for 57 years (also from 52-56 as a music graduate student). And while a quick search in the UT directory won’t net you any results for Anderson, asking anyone in the know will certainly offer some insight.

A younger Anderson stands next to one of the 56 bells

“Tom is the offical University carilloneur,” said Arnell Davis, a Tower Tour Guide at UT. “He’s the best there is…And the carillon is so massive, it’s actually located on two separate floors at the top of the Tower, four flights up from the observation deck – but he plays it as though it were simple instrument.”

So maybe that sounds impressive, but consider the routine of playing the carillon. The instrument is similar to an organ, but instead of keys, it has two rows of wooden levers. Each time he touches a lever, it sends a signal through a wire to a slapper inside the bells (which weigh between 20 pounds and 20 tons). To actually play the instrument, you have to frantically multitask, stretching for levers, hopping between pedals, and all the while reading sheet music – and keeping the beat. That sounds like a task for a spry undergrad, much less an 87-year-old man. Anderson, who has finally surpassed the number of steps he climbs each day (two at a time for good measure), says he’ll keep playing until he can’t get up the 85 steps anymore.

And over his lengthy tenure atop the tower, Anderson still hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Although he said he doesn’t have a favorite song, he loves ‘Danny Boy’ and takes some pleasure in playing certain songs at odd times. Examples include ‘Let it Snow’ in the middle of August or Chopin’s funeral march on the first day of finals.

Some things never change, and we like it that way. One day Tom will retire and the University will lose an icon. But until that day, we should cherish the music and remember the man. The next time you hear the bells think of him, and maybe even tell a friend. He deserves a little bit of celebrity after all. I think he’s earned it.


3 responses to “For Whom Tolls the Bells

  1. The funeral march on the first day of finals is hilarious, I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for it come May, though most of us lucky comm students don’t have many finals 😉

  2. Pingback: It’s Springtime In Austin, Time To Visit The Turtle Pond « Burnt Orange Living

  3. Pingback: For Whom Tolls the Bells (Burnt Orange Living) « Kyle Carpenter's Blog

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