Lyle Anderson is waiting to find out if he will be allowed to play the bells, post-retirement.
The massive bell tower that has served as the symbolic voice of UW-Madison has been silent since August.
For decades, the carillon at 1160 Observatory Drive treated campus visitors and students to tours and hour-long concerts each Sunday, and offered 15-minute concerts Wednesdays and Fridays. (A great favorite in 2013 was the theme to Game of Thrones.) During daylight hours, the carillon also rang on the hour and quarter-hour.
There are several reasons for the silence. The automated clockwork developed a fault late in the summer of 2014. Carillonneur Lyle Anderson retired in September, after 30 years. And a recent report has uncovered a variety of potential safety issues.
Officially part of the UW School of Music, the iconic 85-foot tower stands in front of the Social Sciences building, adjacent to Muir Woods. It was completed in 1936, built of local sandstone with donated funds. It is one of the largest carillons in the country, its 56 bells spanning four and a half octaves, played from a large console of levers.
Despite his retirement, Anderson says he would like to continue playing the bells somehow, but university rules are thorny when it comes to paying people who receive retiree benefits. “The catch-22 situation seems to be at an impasse at the moment,” says Anderson.
“We have to follow human resources policies when people retire,” explains Susan Cook, director of the School of Music. “We are looking to be able to use our own gift resources to continue to have a carillonneur of some kind. Whether that will be Lyle coming back as a retired annuitant or something else, I don’t know.”
Complicating matters, the School of Music took the opportunity after Anderson retired to request a review of the tower from the UW Department of Environment, Health and Safety.
In addition to the need for asbestos abatement, better signage and fire safety improvements, much of the 18-page study deals with ladders and their repair. It also notes a wobbly keyboard bench and speculates that sound levels inside the tower might be dangerously loud.
Steve Wagner, communications director of UW Facilities Planning & Management, says some minor repairs and maintenance will take place in the short term while his department looks at the report’s other recommendations.
“Until then,” says bell-ringer Anderson, “I’m simply sitting by the phone, waiting for it to ring.”
[Editor's note: This article was edited to correctly source Steve Wagner as communications director of UW Facilities Planning and Management.]