By Leah Jones, Features Editor
Originally published June 27, 2016
The University of Missouri–St. Louis has recently changed its tunes. Chancellor Thomas George, with the Dean of Fine Arts and Communication, Dr. Jim Richards, and the Supervisor of General Maintenance, Bill Warren, decided that it was time to change the songs that radiate from the Thomas Jefferson Library every day for half an hour at noon and 5 p.m.
The residents of the neighborhoods surrounding UMSL’s campus in places like Bellerive and Bel-Nor have heard this same sequence of songs for many years. Though no one seemed to know exactly how long the songs had remained the same, Dr. Richards said, “It’s been at least a couple decades … I think with the residents, it was less that they didn’t like it, or didn’t like having it, it was just the sequence of the same songs.”
Chancellor George said, “This got resurrected right now, sort of because Bill Warren emailed me—I mean out of the blue.” Taking into consideration the neighboring residents and Mr. Warren’s email, the chancellor “thought that it would be nice to just re-examine what we’re doing.”
Dr. Richards compiled two lists of songs that he had hoped might replace the old tunes. One list was composed of Beatles songs, and the other consisted of songs that were unique to Missouri, such as “Shenandoah,” “The Missouri Waltz,” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
They were unable to play either of these lists however. The songs are played from a digital carillon system that is housed on the top of the TJL. Via email, Mr. Warren said, “There are no actual bells. All [the] music is digital … A couple of hundred songs are encoded into the system. Once the songs are selected, we do the programming, [and] set the times [that] they are played, along with the volume.”
Since the carillon system atop the TJL only plays the songs encoded into the system, they were unable to use Dr. Richards’s initial list.
However, Chancellor George chose popular and recognizable tunes from the available songs. The repertoire of songs on the “Standard Secular Package Classic” list categorized songs into 14 groups: Rogers and Hammerstein, Love Songs, Old Favorites, Classical, World Folk Songs, Songs for Children, Patriotic 1, Patriotic 3, National Anthem, Seasons, Songs for a Cloudy or Windy Day, Songs for a Rainy Day, Songs for a Spring Day, and Christmas. Of his selections, Chancellor George said “It was just very arbitrary.”
However, as a jazz pianist himself, Chancellor George said that he did choose “songs that I sort of immediately recognized … things that I have played on gigs, I kind of picked some of those.” “A Foggy Day in London Town,” “I’ll Remember April,” “Over the Rainbow,” “Come Rain or Shine,” and “Spring Is Here” are all songs that the chancellor said that he plays regularly. When asked about his favorite selection, he cited “Embraceable You,” originally by George Gershwin.
Even if they had been able to create their own list of songs to be played, there would have been some pragmatic parameters around which songs they were able to choose. Since it uses bell sounds, the carillon system cannot play dense pieces. According to Richards, “You mainly have to play tunes that are a single line where you have just a melody, and occasionally there will be an extra accompanying note to make a harmony. But it’s not like playing a song on the piano, where you would have chords and some sort of counterpoint. It’s mainly just a single tune.”
Despite this limitation, the songs are still recognizable. “Some things you can hear with your ears very easily. Especially if you know it, you can sort of supply the harmony in your own mind and it makes sense, and the tune itself sort of implies the accompaniment,” said Richards.
Aside from the obvious uplifting aura provided by the tunes, Dr. Richards also said that the bells are a very traditional addition to the campus: “the bell tower carillon, even [going] back to the old medieval university … if you go back to Cambridge or Oxford. So, there is a little bit of history about campuses associated with this.”
In addition to changing the chimes at the TJL, there was also mention of changing the hold music for the UMSL telephone system with the help of the upcoming Music Department chair, Gary Brandes. “I see these as a package” Chancellor George said. “The repertoire [for the telephones] for the most part, is from our faculty and students playing. It’s great stuff. Just great stuff … Hopefully by the start of the new school year, it would be nice to have new hold music.”
In the meantime, students and faculty still have the chance to enjoy the new songs played by the carillon system. Dr. Richards said, “I hope people really enjoy this, and they really think of it as adding an ambiance to the campus that’s special and comforting, and somewhat memorable about being here.”
Keep an ear open for the new chimes, and for upcoming information about the new telephone hold music.