The Student Center Bell Tower
Bells were ringing for the first time at UCI Thursday, May 5, and the campus community gathered at the Student Center Bell Tower to celebrate with speeches, a ribbon cutting, food, games and student performances. The carillon was a gift from the class of 2010. Photo by Michelle S. Kim; video by Steve Zylius / University Communications

Ask not for whom the bells toll. If you’re at UC Irvine, they now toll every hour for Anteaters, thanks to a new campus carillon.

For the first time in UCI history, the sound of stately gongs emanated from the Student Center Bell Tower, playing — more or less — at 10 a.m. and again at 10:10 a.m. Thursday, May 5, in honor of the class of 2010, which raised $8,538.82 for the carillon system. (In a sign of the times, many who turned out for an inaugural bell-ringing celebration checked the clocks on their cell phones to gauge the tower’s accuracy.)

“With the ringing of these bells, we usher in a longstanding tradition. We will use these bells as a reminder to all the Anteater faithful,” said Thomas Parham, interim vice chancellor for student affairs. Chancellor Michael Drake, Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost Michael Gottfredson and class of 2010 president Megan Braun ’10 were among those at a bell tower ribbon cutting.

The class of 2010 “wanted to give something we could see when we came back to campus — something we could visit, take our children to and partake in for years to come,” Braun said. “A physical gift provides a tangible connection to UCI. It’s something that will remain long after all of the faculty members have forgotten our names.”

Emily Kjos, Student Center advisory board member and second-year business economics major, told the crowd: “The bells add maturity to our young campus. They give it character.”

Celebration attendees enjoyed food, music, games, rock-wall climbing, and dance and music performances.

“The bells unite everyone on campus,” said Isabel Wang, a fourth-year social ecology major. “They give us a sense of belonging and identity.”

Sam Lam, a second-year law student, remembers the bells at UC Berkeley’s Sather Tower playing Cal fight songs in addition to classical carillon pieces during his undergraduate days. “I’m excited about the new bells,” he said. “This sort of thing makes a real difference on a university campus.

“A carillon, when it tolls, binds the community together in the subtlest of ways. A sound that you know everyone else on campus can hear becomes a powerful and perpetual symbol reminding you where you are. It’s the heartbeat of an academic community.”

UCI’s new bells tap into a tradition that harkens back to the early Middle Ages, when massive cast-metal bells — some weighing tons — rang out from churches and campaniles (the Leaning Tower of Pisa being the most famous).

But the bell visible inside the Student Center tower is just for show. That ringing sound comes from an electronic carillon locked in a closet inside the center. (So odds are a human bell ringer won’t inhabit the tower anytime soon.)

The carillon will play a “classic Westminster time toll” every hour on the hour between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., said Erin Lane, marketing and project specialist with UCI’s Student Center & Event Services, which oversees the bells’ operation. And, to commemorate the class of 2010, they’ll ring at 10:10 a.m. every May 5.

“The big advantage of the electronic system is that we can adjust the volume,” Lane said. “We can make it stronger in the middle of the day and tone it down in the later hours. We have to be sensitive to people living in the surrounding areas. We’re trying to be respectful neighbors while having a great landmark.”

The bell system also will be used during campus emergencies to broadcast messages from the Police Department, she noted.

Some students said they hoped the carillon would help them make it to class on time.

“It’s a way to keep time and start off the day,” said Jon Revolo, a third-year psychology major. “Maybe it’ll play ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ during the holidays.”

For now, there are no plans to play music on the system, as other campuses have. Iowa State University’s bell tower has tolled out Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” for instance, while Brigham Young University’s has played the “Harry Potter” films’ theme song.

Noted Lam: “Soon enough, we will take this thing for granted. The carillon will eventually become just part of the campus background. I think that’s when it becomes truly remarkable, because it’s then that the bells become incorporated into UCI and become part of who we are.”