Linda Dzuris, associate professor and resident carillonneur, teaches students in a variety of majors to play Clemson’s largest instrument, atop the Tillman Hall bell tower.

Linda Dzuris, associate professor and resident carillonneur, teaches students in a variety of majors to play Clemson’s largest instrument, atop the Tillman Hall bell tower.

Linda Dzuris has the distinction of working in one of the highest places on campus, and one of the loudest.

Dzuris, the musician who plays the bells atop Tillman Hall, is Clemson University’s resident carillonneur, a post she’s held since 1999.

At least once a day, Dzuris makes the trek from the Brooks Center, where she is an associate professor of music, to the heart of campus. She takes the elevator to the fourth floor of Tillman Hall. Then she climbs four flights of steps to the playing cabin, which is located just below the bells. But she doesn’t complain about the journey. She fell in love with bells while studying organ at the University of Michigan.

“I knew from that point on, I’d be climbing a lot more steps before graduating,” she said.

Her love of music began when her parents purchased a Yamaha electronic organ. The instrument came with nine free half-hour lessons. “My first instructor was 17 and full of enthusiasm and encouragement,” Dzuris recalls. “I credit her for passing on her joy of music to me.”

Clemson has the distinction of being one of the few university campuses in the country with a carillon. Many churches, schools and towns have bell towers, but according to Dzuris, most of them are mechanized. “There are only about 200 carillons — playable bells — in North America.”

And Dzuris was surprised to learn that Clemson had one.

“When I interviewed, the University didn’t even offer a performing arts degree,” Dzuris said. “But I was excited about the opportunity to show the students and the community the capabilities of the carillon.”

Comprised of 47 French-made bells, the Clemson University Memorial Carillon is the University’s largest musical instrument. The smallest bell weighs 32 pounds and the largest a mere two-and-a-half tons. When played, it can be heard for more than a quarter of a mile away. “It’s certainly not the type of instrument you carry around with you,” Dzuris said jokingly.

Most people believe the carillon is played by pulling ropes connected to each bell, conjuring up images of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dzuris said.

“It’s a common misconception,” she said.

But in fact, the bells’ clappers are mechanically linked to a keyboard.

Arranged much like other keyboard instruments, a carillon’s keyboard consists of wooden batons about two feet in length that the musician strikes with closed fists. Playing the keyboard triggers the mechanism that strikes the bells. In addition, there are pedals similar to an organ’s, played with the feet.

Since the early 15th century, the sounds of bells have been heard from belfries throughout Belgium, the Netherlands and parts of France — the areas of Europe recognized as birthplaces of the carillon. This year, bells throughout the world are marking the quincentenary (500th anniversary) of the carillon.

Dzuris has performed on some of the oldest carillons in Europe, including several in the Netherlands while studying at the Nederlandse Beiaardschool in the medieval town of Amersfoort. She also has been a featured guest artist throughout the United States.

For more than two decades, the bells atop Tillman Hall have been a part of the rich traditions at Clemson University. Each year, the carillon announces the beginning of the academic year, celebrates our victories on the gridiron, entertains concert-goers and mourns the passing of students, faculty and administrators.

The Clemson University Memorial Carillon was dedicated Oct. 18, 1987, completing a two-year fundraising and building process that was spearheaded by Class of ’30 alumnus Rembert “Red” Horton and family. In 1985, the Hortons supported the founding and installation of six bronze bells known as the Clemson University Victory Peal. The motorized bells were heard signaling the start of each academic year and after each home football victory.

Soon after the bells’ installation, the Class of 1943 embraced the vision of a grand instrument located in the heart of campus. Members of that class purchased the largest bell — approximately 4,386 pounds — and proudly named it “BIG C.” Through the generosity of many others in the Clemson family, 39 additional bells were acquired to form the carillon.

The bells were cast by the Paccard Fonderie de Cloches in Annecy-le-Vieux, France, one of Europe’s oldest foundries. Van Bergen Bellfoundries Inc. in Charleston coordinated the carillon’s design and casting.

Clemson University is the only university or college in South Carolina where students can learn to play the carillon. Private and group lessons are given through the performing arts department. The lessons are open to all students, no matter their course of study. Since classes were started in 1999, nearly 150 Clemson students from more than 40 different majors have taken carillon lessons and classes.

Dzuris and her students can be heard almost daily practicing and performing on the massive instrument. “Playing the carillon is one of those truly exceptional Clemson experiences,” said Lan Chi Pham, a junior psychology major, who has taken lessons for five semesters.

Privacy is not an option with carillon. Unlike other instruments, which are practiced in the isolation of a rehearsal studio or dorm room, the carillon is a public instrument and can be heard throughout the city.

“Everyone hears your mistakes,” said Sarah Comer, a senior communications studies major. “The good thing is no one can see you making the mistake, so I’m not worried about being embarrassed.”

As part of Carillon 500, a worldwide celebration marking the birth of the instrument, Dzuris will present a free concert on Sunday, Sept. 19, at 5 p.m.

Dzuris will perform Bell Canto, a composition written especially for the anniversary, featuring the carillon and brass quintet. Composed by Geert d’Hollander, one of the world’s most accomplished carillon players and composers, the title is a play on the Italian phrase “bel canto,” which means beautiful singing.

Following the concert, the public is invited to view the carillon and learn how this unique instrument is played.

Concert-goers may bring picnics, blankets and lawn chairs. Recommended listening spots surround Tillman Hall and include Cox Union Plaza, the Military Heritage Plaza, the North Green and the Clemson Carillon Garden across from Tillman Hall.

“This is a rare chance for the public to explore one of Clemson’s most unique locations,” Dzuris said.

Written by By Glenn Hare, Brooks Center for the Performing Arts