A Ringing of the Bells

Every hour on the hour (during daylight hours) the bells of Storke Tower have heralded the passing of time in thunderous melody. Donated to the university by Thomas M. Storke in 1969, UCSB’s carillon consists of 61 bells spanning five octaves. The carillonist plays the instrument by striking the keys (each key connects to the clapper of a different bell) with fists loosely closed while also playing the larger bells by operating the foot pedals. Much of the music written for other instruments can be arranged for play on the carillon, with most compositions simplified and modified to capitalize on the carillon’s unique sound. In addition, music written especially for the carillon sounds particularly amazing. Campus composers enjoy writing music for the carillon and then hearing their compositions performed.

“Some music sounds a bit different when played on the carillon,” explained Associate Adjunct Professor of Music and Carillonist Margo Halsted during a recent tour of the Storke Tower installation. Because carillon bells have an overtone series that differs from all other musical instruments, music specifically written and arranged for the carillon can sound hauntingly beautiful.

In the past, differing standards between the carillon tower keyboard and the practice keyboard available to students often complicated carillon instruction. Located in the music building’s basement room, the former practice keyboard was outfitted with keys and foot pedals placed closer together and shifted down a half-octave. As a result, carillon tower performance for new students was often frustrating at first.

But now that has all changed…

Thanks to the generosity of Professor Halsted, the UCSB Department of Music is now the proud owner of a new American Standard keyboard. Valued at over $22,000, the new practice keyboard matches the tower carillon keyboard, enabling students to advance their knowledge of carillon performance in a more streamlined and effective fashion. Like the tower keyboard, the new practice keyboard is outfitted with mechanical action that allows the carillonist to play both loud and soft sounds, within a range that helps add subtlety and nuance to carillon performances even when the bells themselves can weigh two tons or more.

Commenting on her donation, Professor Halsted explained, "All these improvements have been spurred by a desire to make this instrument sound even better and make it easier to play. Future UCSB carillon players will benefit greatly [by] having the matching practice keyboard.”

Over the past three years, several other enhancements have been made to the UC Santa Barbara carillon, including new iron clappers for the bronze bells, a new bench for the tower keyboard, and funding for repairs to the tower windows so that they may be opened when brass ensembles areperforming  in the tower alongside the carillon. Halsted hopes this latest addition of the practice keyboard, custom made in the Netherlands, will allow aspiring carillonists to reach their highest potential while also ensuring that the carillon itself remains “a part of people’s lives.”

“The carillon is an untapped resource on campus,” Halsted explained, going on to say, “This is an exciting instrument that can provide meaningful and fun music for the campus. Students will remember the music long after they have left the campus.”

The carillon is traditionally played before graduation ceremonies at UC Santa Barbara, and a few concerts are also planned each year.

“It’s a wonderful time,” Halsted said, referring to the concerts. “While the carillonist plays a concert, listeners lay out blankets on the grass and sit near the base of  the tower. A TV screen down below provides a picture of the performer in action up above. The performer and the audience can feel a sense of community.”

“The happy bell music coming from the magnificent carillonin StorkeTower may now sound even better,” summed up Halsted.

Those interested in hearing the carillon in action can catch early performances on Mondays from 7:45 to 8am during the school term. The carillon is also played some weekend mornings, and a special Earth Day carillon recital is planned for April 27th.

"Our department is fortunate to offer instruction in carillon as part of our commitment to provide a diverse and challenging course of study for our music students,” ," said Jill Felber, Chair of the UC Santa Barbara Department of Music.“Margo's commitment to improve carillon practice and performance at UC Santa Barbara is extraordinary. “


Elizabeth Cutright

Marketing and

Communications Manager

UCSB Music Department



Storke Tower (Photo by E Cutright)
Associate Adjunct Professor Halsted sits before the newly donated carillon practice keyboard. (Photo by Christina Esser)