We Know Montana

Aug 30, 2013 3:26 PM by Russ Thomas - KPAX/KAJ News

Behind the scenes at the UM belltower

MISSOULA - Four days a week, 52 weeks a year, the carillon bells chime loud from the clock tower at high noon across the campus of the University of Montana.

It's a tradition that runs as deep as any other on the campus of the University of Montana - the carillon bells have been ringing for the campus and the community for 60 years.

"Boy, I think the tradition is very important for the University because it has, over time, linked itself to big events. At Homecoming Weekend , the carillon is always featured, at commencement it's always played, so it becomes a part and it really becomes part of life at the university," UM carilloneur Nancy Cooper explained.

The school of music faculty teacher, and organist - Nancy Cooper - has had the role as school carilloneurist for 20 years, heading to the University Hall Clock Tower every Tuesday through Friday.

She says her selection of music is virtually limitless.

"Sometimes I play music that was written specifically for the carillon, but there are lots and lots of other arrangement for other instruments that can be played on the carillon. It just depends on the mood of the player."

Cooper recently hurt her pinky finger, opening the door for a new musician to temporarily take over the position. Barbara Ballas earned the chance after asking Cooper about playing the carillon during a meeting between the two.

"I practiced for three weeks and she said, 'well it's time to go up to the tower and play now' and I said 'Oh!'. That was Christmastime and it's just been the greatest fun.

The carillon is very unique to the Northwest...in fact, there only three, one in Wyoming, One in Washington, and at the University.

Ballas says she is happy to be the assistant while Cooper is healing, but says she wants to continue to help whenever needed once Cooper returns.

"Oh I love it, I think it's wonderful to be a part of this tradition. For me personally, I like the supporting role in here, no one can see me, but they get to hear it and I know I'm doing something positive for the campus and the tradition," Ballas told us.

One thing is for sure, whether it's Barbara Ballas or Nancy Cooper heading up the Clock Tower at University Hall, you are guaranteed to a special performance of a truly unique Instrument found only at The University of Montana.

Cooper told us she has no timetable for her return, saying only that she wants to be at 100% before returning to the job.

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