King Chapel bells are better than ever

With a repertoire from the Beatles to scary Halloween music, the King Chapel bells are better than ever.

The carillon, once dependent on piano roll-type technology, is now programmed digitally. In addition to official Cornell events such as commencement, special songs are programmed on the first and last days of each block, during winter break until New Year’s Day, certain national holidays, and on the final days seniors are on campus. Wedding couples can also have songs or special chimes programmed.

420 Number of songs available 12 Number of Beatles songs available 120 Possible bell combinations 1 Wedding proposal accepted (to “You Are My Sunshine”)
Number of songs available
Number of Beatles
songs available
Possible bell combinations
Wedding proposal accepted
(to “You Are My Sunshine”)

At the beginning of blocks, students walk to class hearing uplifting songs like “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”or “Rock Around the Clock.” For the end of blocks, the carillon plays something catchy like “Home on the Range,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” or “I Feel Fine.”

On Halloween the campus heard “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” and the themes from “Addams Family,” “Munsters,” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” At midnight on Dec. 31, the bells played “Auld Lang Syne.”

After commencement there are bell peals and classical songs. Then, in the final hours before seniors move out, the bells play songs like “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

The computer-programmed carillon was installed in the King Chapel tower in 2014, replacing a defunct 1981 carillon. The first bells and songs were played at Homecoming on Oct. 17, 2014, as a surprise to the campus and alumni.

Vice President for Student Affairs John Harp helps program the music from a repertoire of 420 songs. He once used the bells to set up his proposal to former Cornell development officer Cheryl Merritt, whom he calls “Sunshine.”

“I had ‘You Are My Sunshine’ programmed to play. On that morning, we ‘happened’ to be taking a walk on campus when the song played, completely surprising her because she had not heard songs from the new carillon yet,” Harp said. “When she realized what the song was, I told her that it was for her, then dropped to one knee and asked her to marry me. She said yes, and we were married that summer.”

The carillon task is a team effort, he says. “Cindy Krob and I plot the schedule, songs, and bell combinations from the Student Affairs Office. Then Johnny Olshewsky, from Facilities Services, programs the playlist into the carillon console several times each year.

“My office faces the Ped Mall, and I really enjoy seeing students’ faces when special songs or bell combinations play while they are on their way to classes. Sadly, where Cindy’s office is located, she can’t even hear the bells or songs when they play. As a sign of the times, she will see a post on Facebook by someone who has enjoyed them, records, and posts it. Also, we hear from local Mount Vernon residents how much they enjoy the return of the bells and the special chimes and songs they hear occasionally.”

Joel Miller, Director of Facilities Services, made it his mission to find a way to replace the carillon.

“And I have to say, it only seems natural to hear the bells from King Chapel again,” Harp says. “They were definitely missed.”


Web Extra: Hear the bells here.