For 100 years, the Altgeld Chimes have provided a soundtrack for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.
The chimes’ 10-minute concerts between classes feature songs ranging from “Illinois Loyalty” to movie themes, and from hymns to pop songs.
The bells were first dedicated in a concert at Homecoming on Oct. 30, 1920. The anniversary concert will feature some of the music performed 100 years ago.
Chimesmaster Tina Horton, a graduate student in musicology, and the other chimes players organized the anniversary events. Horton said she wants to celebrate the history of the chimes, honor the legacy of longtime chimesmaster Sue Wood and recognize the community of students who are dedicated to playing the chimes and continuing the tradition.
“This instrument is unique to Illinois. Of course, there are chimes at other universities, but carillons are more common. There are only a few universities with chimes,” Horton said. “It’s just such a funky instrument, because ours was built to have all the notes for ‘Illinois Loyalty.’”
She will play the chimes for the Oct. 30 concert, which is a virtual event. Those interested in listening can livestream the concert. In-person attendance is discouraged to avoid a large crowd gathering.
Horton will start the anniversary concert with the first three songs played on the bells during the 1920 dedication concert – “By Thy Rivers Gently Flowing” (the Illinois state song), “Illinois Loyalty” and the “Doxology,” also known as the “Old 100th.” She’ll also play two other songs performed in 1920 – “Comin’ Thro the Rye,” a Scottish song that Wood played at a 75th anniversary concert for the chimes; and “Adeste Fideles,” the U of I’s original alma mater song, which is also known as “University Anthem.”
Horton will perform an arrangement of “America the Beautiful” by Milton Harry Mettee, the first person to play the chimes and an employee of McShane Bell Foundry, the company that cast the bells. She also will play “The Ash Grove,” a favorite of Wood; and a change-ringing fragment, a method of playing a repetitive pattern on the bells that every chimes player once had to learn.
The last series of songs are Horton’s personal choices. She selected “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as an alternative to the minstrel show songs that were included in the 1920 concert; “Bahay Kubo,” a Filipino folk song, as a nod to her Filipino heritage; and “Hail to the Orange,” which is the first song every chimes player learns to play.
The Marching Illini also will perform at the concert. A group of 50 band members – mostly seniors – will play some of the band’s traditional music. The selections will include “Hail to the Orange,” “Oskee Wow Wow” and “Revised Entrance No. 3,” which the band plays at the start of pregame shows that is based on the Illinois state song; a patriotic medley; and the “William Tell Overture.” It will perform “Illinois Loyalty” in the form of a call-and-response with the chimes, Marching Illini Director Barry Houser said.
The band will perform in front of the Alma Mater with Altgeld Hall in the background and with the band members socially distanced from one another, Houser said.
An evening performance will follow the main concert on Oct. 30, and it will be livestreamed on the Altgeld Chimes Facebook page. Horton said the evening concert will celebrate the chimes players, each of whom will play a short set of their favorite songs. The concert likely will include some Halloween music, as well as “Happy Birthday,” Horton said. Then, they’ll ring the bells 100 times.
The classes of 1914-1921 and the U.S. School of Military Aeronautics raised the money for the 15 bells – the number required to perform “Illinois Loyalty” – for the Altgeld Hall tower. The bells don’t include every note on the chromatic scale. For example, there is no F-natural key. As a result, the chimes players must adapt the music to be played on the bells.
“Because the chimes players have to arrange for the instrument, we have a really extensive library,” Horton said. “It’s a cool piece of campus history that can be heard when we play the chimes.”
Short concerts on Oct. 25-29 will include songs from every decade of the chimes, from the 1920s through the 2010s, with concerts at 12:50 p.m. and 3:50 p.m. each day featuring music from a specific decade.
A final concert on Oct. 31 titled “A Concert for the Future of the Chimes” will feature the winners of the first composition and arrangement competition for the bells. Entrants can submit either an original composition or an arrangement of music by composers or artists who are Black, Indigenous or people of color. Horton said there are only seven original compositions written for the Altgeld Chimes because chimes players usually arrange existing music to play. Students will vote on their favorites Oct. 19-21, and a chimes player will perform the top two choices from each category. The concert will be livestreamed on the Altgeld Chimes Facebook page.
Along with the concerts, the School of Music, which oversees the chimes players, is working with the Sousa Archives to archive the historical material related to the chimes, including binders of printed music, log books of concerts and guest books.
Editor's note: Visit here for a story about the history of the Altgeld Chimes.