Celebration Brought New Tunes


by Grant Rodgers

The new carillon player in Smith Chapel rang over campus for the first time in several years last week, playing “We Gather Together” and “The Red and Gold” during the sesquicentennial picnic Sept. 24.

“Just listening to those chimes last Friday really added a special significance to the event,” Jim Thorius, dean of students and vice president of student development, said.

This culminated an effort started by the Simpson Guild three years ago.

“We wanted something we could do for the sesquicentennial,” Marilyn Leek, college director of procurement and guild member, said. “At that time we were looking for possible capital improvements we could make.”

After making the decision, the guild set aside $500 a year towards a new carillon system while the chapel matched the donation from wedding revenues. Now, the carillon chimes at every hour and half hour, using a set of 16 chimes that sends an electronic signal to the speaker in the tower. It also plays pre-recorded songs at noon and 6 p.m. Chapel staff can choose a variety of music to play, from sacred and classical music to popular.

For members of the Simpson community, the new carillon connects the college to its history.

“It connects us to the past when the building was built, on the occasion of our 150th anniversary,” Fritz Wehrenberg, campus chaplain, said. “It adds a continuity that we can hear.”

While it sometimes remains hard to notice the bells in the rush between classes, students echo these sentiments.

“It really does add a lot of character,” said senior Katie Prowant. “It’s a lot of fun to sit out and listen to the music.”

In addition to its traditional significance within the campus, the carillon’s popularity has spread into the Indianola community and its return may draw increased attention to the chapel.   

“Over the years, I’ve gotten calls from townspeople who missed hearing the bells,” Ann Shepherd, chapel office manager, said. “It used to be very popular to use in weddings as the wedding party left the chapel and hopefully we can utilize it again.”

The Martha Matilda Harper Memorial Carillon had been included in the original chapel in 1968. A donation for the system came from the estate of Robert A. MacBain, a 1910 alumnus who, along with his wife, was successful in the cosmetic business. A few renovations and a system replacement occurred over the next decades before it finally shut down early in the new millennium.

With the new system, students and faculty can look forward to the music now for a long time and hopefully the emergence of a fresh perspective on an old tradition.

“I’m thinking it’d be a lot of fun to play the Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ at least once a day during finals week,” Wehrenberg said. “I’m hoping to have a little fun with it in a positive way.”