Altgeld chimes-players ring in 100 years


Mark Capapas

Michael Broussard, assistant chimesmaster and graduate student in Music, speaks about the chimes at Altgeld Hall on Friday. The Altgeld Chimes were gifted to the University from its students from 1914-1921.

By Farrah Anderson, Contributing Writer

Tucked past three flights of steep staircases, the chimes room in Altgeld Hall is home to shelves of handwritten music, wooden pedals connected to wire cables and the Altgeld Ringers, a group of student chimes players. After October, however, the future of the chimes is uncertain.

Because of Altgeld Hall’s structural damage over the years, a $192 million project was approved to renovate Altgeld Hall and replace Illini Hall. As of Tuesday, “no plans have been made to shut down the chimes within the next year,” said Sheldon Katz, the dean’s special advisor in LAS. 

LAS Facilities Director Derek Fultz said the project for renovating Illini Hall and Altgeld Hall will span several years and that “every bit of the buildings will be touched.” 

“We understand our project and the impact that the chimes have on campus,” Fultz said. “Our intention is to work with the players so the chimes can be played as much as possible.”

With the most extensive renovations scheduled to begin in August 2021, the work to Altgeld Hall includes historical restoration, improved structural reinforcement and the updating of stairwells that possess “no modern codes for accessibility,” Fultz said. 

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Albert Lua, sophomore in Engineering, started playing the chimes with the Altgeld Ringers his freshman year. Because of the impending renovations, though, Lua said he’s disappointed about the possible shutdown. 

“I’ve only been playing for a year, and I want to keep playing,” Lua said. 

As the centennial celebration of the Altgeld Chimes runs from Sunday to Oct. 31, ringers say they hope to increase their visibility on campus through a week of concerts and expand their Black, Indigenous and People of Color music repertoire.

Chimesmaster Tina Horton, graduate student in FAA, said the question she hears over and over outside Altgeld Hall is, ‘are those bells played by computers?’

“Guess what? Chimes players exist,” Horton said. “We’re human, and this tradition has been here for 100 years.” 

Horton was nominated Chimesmaster in 2019. As the third female and first BIPOC chimes master, Horton said she has made it her mission to expand the library of music and plans to give a concert for Filipino American History Month on Sunday. 

“If I’m in charge of this organization, I have a responsibility to make a change,” she said. “It’s not anything big, but if music can reflect more what campus looks like then that’s important. We need more representation in so many different mediums. Music still has a lot of work to do.”

Horton said the University is home to one of the few chimes left on U.S. college campuses. From classic church hymns to “Toxic” by Britney Spears, the chimes can be heard ringing across the campus between passing periods and on holidays. 

The Altgeld Chimes, also known as the Senior Memorial Chimes, were a gift from students to the University from 1914-1921. Chime historian Liam Flood wrote that Hale “Pete” Daugherty, editor of The Daily Illini in 1913, is known as “The Father of the Chimes” because of his efforts in rallying the student body to gift the chimes to the University.

Flood wrote that Daugherty published many “fiery editorials” by students at The Daily Illini in support of the chimes. Eventually, the bells were installed in Altgeld. 

“The reason the bells exist is because of the students,” Horton said.

As a part of the centennial celebration, the Altgeld Ringers opened a composition contest for composers across campus to submit original compositions and arrangements of music by people of color. 

Nick Perozzi, graduate student in Engineering, submitted arrangements for both the original composition and BIPOC arrangement sections. Perozzi said he wanted to choose something relevant to students and landed on “It Feels Like Summer” by Childish Gambino. 

“The BIPOC influence on American music is astounding, and it only seems appropriate to ensure BIPOC music is a part of what campus hears every day,” Perozzi wrote. 

By expanding the chimes music library, Chimesmaster Horton said she wants a larger repertoire for future chimes players to choose from.

“We want more pieces to play, and we love to know what students and community members want to hear,” Horton said. “Sometimes it can feel very alone in the tower not knowing what people want to hear.” 

Usually brimming with chimes players and visitors throughout the year, the chimes room in Altgeld Hall has been closed to tours because of structural damage and safety precautions. Despite closed tours and COVID-19 restrictions, though, the ringers say the chimes room still feels like home. 

“It is nice to feel like you have this special place on campus,” Horton said.

As the ringers prepare for the possible changes during the renovations, Assistant Chimesmaster Michael Broussard said they have “gone into overdrive” for the centennial celebration. 

“It’s really a last hoorah,” Broussard said. 

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