For Emory the Bell Tolls

Urvi Agrawal/Staff

Before Emory students became accustomed to the tune of the Westminster chimes every 15 minutes, myriad melodies rang out from Cox Hall’s Clock Tower, including “The Addams Family” theme song.

Officially named the Robinson Clock Tower after former Emory trustee J. William Robinson, the iconic tower has soared over Cox Bridge for more than 20 years, relaying songs like the Halloween classic during special occasions. The tower’s electronic carillon, a system which amplifies bell sounds, has enabled the tower to broadcast those tunes over the past 18 years.

University Historian and Senior Adviser to the President Gary Hauk, who was at one point responsible for approving Clock Tower song requests, said the tower’s electronic sound system once boasted a variety of melodies. The system played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the opening day of the Major League Baseball (MLB) season in the early 2000s, and circus music during a circus-themed Dooley’s Week in 2011. Hauk recalled hearing the Christmas carol, “The Holly and the Ivy,” ring out in December, and once even asked Director of Piano Studies William Ransom to record a few classical songs for the tower.

“It got to be a little bit tiresome,” Hauk said as he recounted hearing tunes resonate from the tower multiple times a day. “We have not had requests for special songs in five or six years,” he wrote in a March 25 email to the Wheel, adding that the University is reviewing the process for considering requests.

Today, the tower relays the Westminster chimes every quarter hour and Emory’s alma mater at noon, with only a few additional melodies.

One of those is the Islamic call to prayer, known as the Adhan. Every Friday in February since 2000 — Islamic Awareness Month — and the month of Ramadan, the call to worship rings out for several minutes on Emory’s campus.

Emory’s Muslim Students Association (MSA), in collaboration with dean of the chapel and spiritual life and the University administration, debuted the tower’s Adhan tradition in 2000, according to Religious Life Scholar in the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life (OSRL) Isam Vaid (93Ox, 95C, 99PH).

Vaid, the founder of both Oxford’s and Emory’s MSA, explained that the time at which the tower relays the Adhan has varied over the years depending on the length of the day.

“[The Adhan] can be heard close to the time of Salaat Al-Jum’ah,” which is Arabic for Friday prayers, Vaid wrote in a March 22 email to the Wheel. “My observation, over the years, has been that the Adhan has been well received with widespread appreciation as an expression of inclusiveness.”

But the tower hasn’t always been musically inclined.

The Clock Tower was built in the mid-1990s and endured the installation of four cast-bronze bells and an electronic carillon in 2000 that made it possible for student organizations to request songs through Hauk.

“There was an initiative to switch out the timing mechanism, install bronze bells and update the system,” Project Manager Alfred Herzog said. Over this two-month period in 2000, the Clock Tower as we know it began to take shape.

During the renovations, plexiglass panelling was installed on three faces of the tower to direct the sound of its chimes away from the residence halls and hospital, and toward the Quadrangle. But no changes were made to the exterior of the structure, according to Herzog.

As project manager, Herzog coordinates with contractors and architectural engineers on capital projects, which cost more than $1 million. His largest assignment has been the construction of the Campus Life Center (CLC).

Despite the CLC’s modern style, Herzog believes the structure will complement the Clock Tower.

“Cox Hall is a little more reminiscent of the architecture that we see on most Emory buildings, and the CLC is more modern,” Herzog said. “They’ll play off each other really well.”

Although some students today regard the tower as a postcard image for Emory, it has modestly integrated its resounding bells into the background noise of the lives of students, hospital employees and University staff and faculty.

0 comments