Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Warriner Chimes

by Casey Gamble and Bryan Whitledge

There is nothing quite like strolling down a snow covered sidewalk on your way to the Library and being serenaded with music coming from the tower of Warriner Hall. You might hear the CMU Fight Song or musical numbers from The Sound of Music and the King and I. These bells have become a cherished part of the atmosphere that students, faculty, and staff love, giving a cheerful beginning to each new hour of the day.

Warriner Hall at Night
1939 CMU yearbook, page 2
Some of you may be aware that the music emanating from Warriner Hall is not created by a set of bells, but by amplifiers and speakers that play a selection of digital audio recordings. This system has come a long way in the nearly 75 years since the original installation, back in 1939 (see link, CS Life 5/17/1939, p. 1). At that time, a set of 21 chimes was given to Central as a gift from the student council and faculty. These chimes were housed in the organ chamber of the Warriner Auditorium and connected to an amplifier located in the Warriner tower. They could be played by hand on a keyboard or automatically with timed clocks. At first, they were set to play every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day until a nearby resident complained that she couldn’t sleep. From then on, the chimes were played from 7 am to 11 pm.

In 1968, there was concern because the chimes were not working due to a clock malfunction. The original system had simply become too old to function properly. For four years, the chimes did not sound. But thanks to the “homemade gadget” of Jim Webb, a CMU Audio Visual technician, a new tape recording system began ringing on the quarter hour in January of 1972. In 1986, the old tape system was replaced with a new electronic system, although many students didn’t favor the gloomy, mourning tone of the new “chimes.” (see link, CM Life 3/19/1986, p. 10)

Again in 2010, CMU updated the system, this time including a larger selection of songs to play for everyone walking on campus, which were more uplifting and cheerful. So even though there isn’t a romantic scene of a chimesmaster tugging on ropes and moving oversized wooden levers in the tower of Warriner Hall, remember that there is quite a lot of history behind the chimes that sing to Central students, faculty, and staff every day.