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Chiming In at Cornell

Chimemasters Wanted
Who: Musically-inclined students to play chimes at an Ivy League school.
Requirements: Must be able to read music, play chimes and climb 161 stairs to get to the top of the tower!

The famous chimes at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) have been the heartbeat of campus life, signaling the hours for more than 130 years. The 21 bells are played standing up and require the students to use their hands and feet to make them work.

It's no easy task, either -- Cornell has the largest chimes in North America! Seven chimemasters are chosen each year after a rigorous competition. Once selected, the students perform three concerts a week (the chimes are played three times a day, seven days a week!). That's a total of 21 different songs ringing throughout each week. In order to keep them varied, chimemasters must also master the art of memory, keeping track of all the songs played so the same tune isn't chimed twice in a three-week period! The only exception to the rule are the three songs played on a daily basis to honor Cornell.

In addition to the chimers' three weekly concerts, there are also duet opportunities and special concerts. "My favorite is on Halloween," explains Alan Erickson, '03. "We decorate the tower and play a concert of 'scary' music from 11 p.m. until midnight."

More than Just Mozart
Don't be surprised by the variety, either. The chimemasters' music can range from Bach to Brahms to Billy Joel, and everything in between.

"We sometimes play 'If I Only Had a Brain' during finals," explains chimemaster Melody Hung '03. The chimes serve to spread cheer as well, especially during Ithaca's many rainy days. Their musical interlude for the blues? A chiming rendition of "Here Comes the Sun."

Those wishing to make specific requests of the chimemasters are welcome -- as long as they make the long climb to do so. "If a visitor is willing to climb 161 steps to make a request, they should get to hear it," explains Erickson.

Once a Chimemaster, Always a Chimemaster
When they graduate, chimemasters are given a card to the tower so they can come back to play whenever they want.

"Being a chimemaster allowed me to fully experience campus life and be a part of something important," notes Melody. Alan agrees, "Chimemasters are all active participants in campus life -- this is one of the best things I ever did at Cornell!"

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