CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — When the renovations of Altgeld Hall closed its tower and put a temporary end to the daily chimes concerts, work began on a video tour of the tower so those interested could still get a look at the tower and chimes while the renovation was underway.
The video that resulted, though, is more than just a tour. Video producer Anne Lukeman of the University of Illinois Public Affairs office wanted to tell the story of the chimes – their history and the experiences of the chimes players, including Sue Wood, who played the chimes during the noontime concert for 45 years before retiring as chimes master in 2016.
The video, which is about 10 minutes, includes interviews with Wood and several chimes players, along with images of the bells, cables, pulleys and keyboard, with the levers the players press to make music. Jack Maples edited hours of video into the storyline of the chimes and the players. Another video production employee, Nick Yi, took drone footage of Altgeld Hall, its bell tower, the Quad and other overhead shots of campus that accompany the music of the chimes playing in the background.
“If you’re a chimes player at the university, or chimes master, you’re pretty much incognito. Nobody knows who’s up there playing,” Wood said in the video. “You just let the music waft out over the Quad and the rest of the campus.”
The audio includes music from one of the daily 10-minute chimes concerts played during the midday passing period between classes. Lukeman and her crew recorded sound in four places during the concert – in the playing cabin where the chimes players perform at the keyboard, in the bell tower, at the very top of the tower where the bells are and outside Altgeld Hall.
“It’s a sense memory that you have when you hear the chimes. It’s one of the sounds of campus,” Lukeman said.
She wanted viewers to also hear the sounds made by the chimes players pressing the levers of the keyboard.
“Part of what I wanted to get across was the experience of being in the playing cabin,” Lukeman said. “It’s small. It’s weird. You hear the bells everywhere, but you also hear the plunk, plunk, plunk of the playing. I wanted people to know what that sounded like. I wanted people to have the experience of being in the cabin.”
Altgeld Tower closed for repairs in May. A separate $90 million to $100 million project will update both Altgeld Hall – which was designed by architect Nathan Ricker, a U. of I. alumnus and the first graduate of a U.S. architecture program – and Illini Hall, across Wright Street. Altgeld Hall opened in 1897 and was added to National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
The chimes players are expected to be back in the tower performing concerts sometime next year.
In the video, one of the chimes players, Jonathon Smith, talks about the bells – which were dedicated in 1920 – being built to play “Illinois Loyalty.” Students raised money to buy two additional bells that would make it possible to play the song.
“The chimes were built to accommodate the tune,” he said. “So it’s like a custom instrument to fit our song. It’s kind of unique.”
Students also raised money for an automated clock system that rings the bells each quarter hour, Smith said.
The final minute of the video features the chimes playing “Hail to the Orange.”
“The bells are sort of like a heartbeat for the campus,” Smith said.