If you spend any time in the vicinity of the University of Montana campus, you’ll have heard one of the more obscure musical instruments without even realizing it. The Main Hall clock tower is home to a carillon, a 47-bell instrument with keys, similar to an organ, played with one’s fists. (Carillon players are called carilloneurs.)
UM’s carillon chimes on the hour and half hour automatically, but every weekday at noon, you can hear a short song resonating from the tower—and that song is played by an actual person up there, typically UM music professor Nancy Cooper.
Organ players and carilloneurs don’t often get a lot of recognition, since they’re often hidden from view up in clock towers or in the corners of churches. So take note on Monday, May 5, when the noon carillon song will be a bit special. Organist and carilloneur Tin-Shi Tam, an Iowa State University professor, visits Missoula and plays a carillon recital on Mon., May 5. If you stop to listen, you might recognize pieces by Johann Christian Bach and Scott Joplin, plus some lesser known works by composers like Wang Hui-Ran and Federico Mompou. Tam plays the bells in Iowa State’s clock tower, like Cooper does for UM. You can also find a video on YouTube of a more 21st century kind of tune emanating from the Iowa State clock tower; in 2010, an ISU student launched a Facebook campaign to get Tam to play Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Whatever preconceived notions you might have (or not have) about organ players, it sounds like they have a sense of humor, too.—Kate Whittle