Lyle Anderson is your average street musician. Except that he plays in the snow and cold, and if his audience really wants to hear him, they should stand about 60 feet away. Oh, and his instrument weighs several tons.
Anderson plays the university's carillon near the top of the 85-foot bell tower on Observatory Drive. If you don't know what a carillon is, it might be best to just come to one of his shows. "It's simple to understand," he says. "But it's hard to describe."
The player, or carillonneur, sits at a keyboard of wooden levers (or more properly, batons). The levers are connected to bronze bells by steel wires. Anderson presses the batons and pushes pedals with his feet to ring those bells. The number of bells varies by instrument. Madison's carillon has 56.
Anderson closes a four-week run of shows for the summer in the coming days, with performances on Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon. During the shows, he leaves the tower door open so that curious visitors can come up and see the action.
And despite being up several flights of stairs, playing an instrument most people can't name, the 63-year-old attracts a pretty good crowd. Last Thursday, at least a dozen people came up to watch him play and listen to him discourse on the selections. Others probably just listened from below.
"They'll come up a couple steps and go, 'Oh, it's too much work,'" Anderson says. Which is okay. The room he sits in is "terrible for listening," he says. "People come, maybe they see how it's played, they listen to a few tunes, and off they go."
Michael Gerasimoff of Madison sat in for several songs after wandering by. "That's rather emphatic," he said approvingly, as Anderson struck the final notes of one piece.
That's a common reaction, says Anderson, who works a few blocks away in the state climatology office. He learned to play on this carillon and has played it for 23 years. "Everyone says, 'You must get cold in the winter, and it must be so loud,'" he says. But the tower is heated, and when he's at the keyboard, a foot of concrete separates him from the bells. Right next to the bells, the volume is higher, but even that's not so bad.
"It's not as loud as a rock concert," he says. "If you only went to harpsichord concerts - maybe then it would be agonizing."
Lyle Anderson, UW Memorial Carillon Tower
1160 Observatory Dr., Thursday (7:30 pm) & Sunday (3 pm), July 30 & Aug. 2