Altgeld Ringers’ fundraiser lets community chime in

A view of the chime in the Altgeld Hall bell tower. The chime was installed in the tower in 1920 and is a gift from the classes of 1914 through 1921 and the U.S. School of Military Aeronautics.

By Lillian Barkley

Students going to their 1 p.m. class are treated to a free concert every day. They probably don’t know the name of the artist, but the Altgeld Ringers play familiar songs for the whole campus to hear.

But on Sept. 26 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Altgeld bells will become a jukebox, and for a $1 to $2 donation, anyone can request a song as part of a fundraiser for the bell tower.

“We think that because the tower is so visible and so representative of the University, we want to restore some of its beauty and its educational potential,” said Amy Liu, senior in FAA and one of the Altgeld Ringers, the official name of the chimesplayers’ registered student organization.

Improving the infrastructure, furniture and carpet in the tower are some of the fundraiser’s goals.

“If you look at a video of the tower from the ’80s, it’s the exact same thing,” Liu said.

Before Saturday’s football game, Liu will be outside of Altgeld Hall, radioing requests up to players in the tower.

Griffin Jenkins, junior in FAA, and Cody Jones, junior in LAS, will take turns playing, depending on who knows the requested song..

“We have to do it on a Saturday to be able to play during the day,” Liu said. “We’re hoping that gives us a pretty good turnout.”

Donators will be able to choose from about 150 songs, which the players arrange themselves. A Reddit poll helped narrow down more than 300 song options.

“We realized ‘Zelda’ was going to be very popular,” Liu said.

The monetary goal for the fundraiser is between $100 and $200, but that’s an added benefit.

“The main goal of the fundraiser is less about getting money for the tower and more about chime awareness,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins added that over half of the people who come to take tours have no idea that volunteers play everything on the bells except the quarter hourly chimes, which are automated.

“We want to make the chimes a really big symbol of the University again since it’s so visible and upfront and representative of University music,” Jenkins said.

Creating an RSO for the chimesplayers was part of the move toward awareness, since it unified the players and allowed them to fundraise.

“In the past, they’ve sort of have been disjointed,” Jenkins said. “Some of us haven’t even met.”

There are typically 10 players every year, all with different skill levels. Musical experience isn’t a requirement for joining.

Jenkins joined as an instrumental performance major; Liu took a tour her freshman year and was so impressed that she had to be a part of it; and Jones, a percussionist, joined because “it’s fun to make loud noises.”

The RSO will have its first meeting at 6 p.m., on Oct. 1 in Illini Union room 405 and anyone is welcome.

The chimes are an incomplete keyboard made to play “Illinois Loyalty,” and students must be approved by Chimesmaster Sue Wood before they can perform concerts.

“To become full-fledged, the initiation is to learn to play ‘Hail to the Orange’,” Jenkins said. The Illini theme is played every day before each concert, and the worn sheet music sits on a music stand next to the large wooden levers which make up the keyboard.

The RSO was also put in place to form a system of student leadership for running the tower.

“There’s a very real possibility that, some time in the future, it will be completely run by the student organization,” Jones said.

Wood, who has run the tower for around 45 years, may be retiring in the near future, Liu said.

“It’s time to set a new precedent. It’s time to get the University a little more engaged with what we do,” she said. “The chimesmaster relationship will be changing.”

Students have played the chimes since the 1960s, since Albert Marion, who has a framed portrait in the tower, was chimesmaster.

“What we have is character and music that evolves with the chimesplayers, because we can actually write music and play it on here,” Liu said.

The players also try to involve the community. During Malaysian Independence Day, they learned the Malaysian national anthem and played it during their concert. Malaysian students recognized and told the players how great it was to hear, Liu said.

Having the chimes be entirely automated is the Altgeld Ringers’ fear. Jones recalled Ohio State’s bell tower, which sits empty for most of the year.

“If the students care, if the students are aware of the fact that it’s people up here playing, we don’t really care about the money, but if we have that moral support from the students then the administration would never let that happen,” he said.

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