Miller passes the torch of WBU carillon duties

PLAINVIEW - For those who live within a few blocks of Wayland Baptist University, the pealing of the carillon chimes is a familiar sound. Westminster chimes ring out each quarter hour, with a deep heavy ring tolling out the hours.

Earl Miller is perhaps the most familiar with the tolling bells, though his home is usually out of earshot. For the past 40 years, Miller has served as the carilloneur at Wayland while maintaining his duties as official university organist and associate professor of music. Though he retired in 1994 and is now organist emeritus, Miller had retained the carillon duties.

But on Friday, April 4, Miller handed the keys to the carillon off to Dr. Ann Stutes, chairman of the music department at Wayland, and Anne Weaver, a freshman from Dumas who will be assisting Stutes in the task.

For the most part, keeping the carillon running smoothly is simply a matter of keeping the time set accurately - including changing it for daylight savings time and standard time - and programming it to play tunes at certain times of the day and year.

Miller never doubted the time.

"It's right, I know, because I'm a clock hound," Miller said, noting that he has 25 different clocks at home and has them all set by the atomic clock in Colorado. While he was still on the faculty full-time on campus, Miller said his office clocks were always set with the carillon chimes and he relied on them to keep him on schedule.

The same holds true for many of Wayland's employees and its students, and many keep up with upcoming classes by listening for the pealing bells. Miller said he can only hear the bells from his home "on a very still, foggy, damp day, because the sound travels better that way."

The programming function of the carilloneur is much simpler now with technology advances that make it possible to complete with the push of a few buttons. The machine looks much like a large computer unit with buttons and keyholes. In the back, however, 25 metal bars produce the notes with magnetic forces from cassettes inserted into the machine. The notes are then amplified and broadcast out large speakers.

Songs can be set to play at any time. Currently, the carillon peals out a traditional Christian hymn at noon and 6 p.m. daily, and different cassettes offer a variety of songs including Christmas and patriotic tunes. The Westminster chimes play from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The machine can also be used to play songs live via a small keyboard connected to it. Miller said in past years he would play the university alma mater live on the carillon during the annual Parade of Pioneer Pride. He has also used the bells to mark significant events, like letting it toll for four hours after the death of President John F. Kennedy.

Miller said the university's first carillon - which operated on a piano roll similar to a player piano - was purchased in the 1960s. In those years, Miller's studio was located on the third floor of Gates Hall, the main administration building for the campus, and the carillon was in his office. Speakers were mounted to the top of the building.

After the carillon gave out, another one was not purchased until 1985, when Larry and Vanita Woolsey, WBU alums, donated the new unit to the university. At that time, the carillon was housed in Harral Auditorium, which has housed the music department since 1973. But after the Mabee Learning Resources Center was completed in 1996, making it the tallest structure on the campus, the carillon had a new home. The unit now sits in a small room atop the LRC, accessible only by stairs.