The inside scoop on the Centennial Carillon tower

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A carillonneur is a person who plays the bells in a bell tower, and it is not an easy job. It takes hours of practice hitting large, long, wooden keys that look like broom handles. Calluses start to form on the back of a carillonneur’s hand from constantly hitting the wooden keys.

Ariel Peterson, a carillonneur in BYU’s Centennial Carillon Tower, loves her job and has a passion for playing in the bell tower, even if it means getting calluses on the backs of her hands.

“Since the keys are so large and long and must pull a heavy clapper into a 4,000 pound bell, you cannot play the carillon with your fingers like a piano, but you have to hit the keys with the backs of your fists,” Peterson said. “I have calluses from playing, but is it worth it? Oh yeah. Especially when it comes to playing ‘Harry Potter’ on Halloween.”

Every hour, the bell tower at BYU is automated to play “Come, Come Ye Saints” and two “ding-dong” bells every half hour from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Students may have noticed other songs being played; however, they may not have known that these songs are actually a live performance.

The carillon class is a private lesson class. Students have to register and audition for it. The class is taught by Dr. Don Cook, who is the university carillonneur and associate professor of music (Organ). He fell in love with the carillon after taking lessons at BYU not long after the bell tower was built.

“I enjoy making music on the instrument, especially playing some of the best contemporary works,” Dr. Cook said. “I also enjoy teaching others to do the same.┬áThose with good keyboard skills do well rather quickly. But because it requires a whole different set of techniques than piano or organ playing, truly refined playing requires much practice, careful listening and patience.”

Julia Dunbar, the assistant carillonneur and a senior majoring in athletic training, loved the bell tower even before she knew anything about it. Her dreams came true when she got to see for herself how the bells were played.

“I took two semesters of a basic organ class from Dr. Cook my freshman year,” Dunbar said. “It was while I was enrolled in his class that I found out he also taught the carillon class, so I asked him one day if he would ever mind taking me up there with him so I could watch him play. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. It was from that moment on that I knew I wanted to learn to play the bells.”

Peterson also loves the freedom she gets to choose what to play for the bell tower. After she practices her selection, Dr. Cook helps her with the mechanics and musicality of the songs.

“I am personally a fan of playing seasonal songs for the noon recitals, especially Christmas music, which I can play right after Thanksgiving,” Peterson said.

Dunbar is also excited to pull out the Christmas music, like “Carol of the Bells.”

“I just really like playing the carillon because when you’re playing it, you’re the most exposed musician on campus and yet no one knows who you are,” Dunbar said.

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