Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Audience memebers gather in front of Willard Straight Hall to watch the livestream of chimesmasters' performance.

September 23, 2018

Generations of Alumni Reunite for Cornell Chimes’ Sesquicentennial

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From The Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter, “My Old Cornell” to John Lennon, the Cornell Chimes celebrated its birthday with music spanning across its 150-year history.

On Saturday of the Homecoming weekend, over 100 Cornellians — from those who graduated 60 years ago to members of the newest Class of 2022 — gathered on Ho Plaza to sing along to classic tunes and to watch the chimesmasters perform live — something that audience members normally have to climb up McGraw Tower’s 161 steps to witness.

Unlike many other musical instruments, playing the chimes requires three limbs. From a screen set up in front of Willard Straight Hall, audience members watched as the chimesmasters carefully balanced on one leg as they pressed a row of handles and pedals.

“Pure athleticism,” said master of ceremony Devan Carrington, assistant director of residential programs, after watching the chimesmasters first piece.

The celebration also served to bring together both past chimesmasters and the general public, according to Marisa LaFalce ’97, chimes program coordinator. Chimesmasters typically have a reunion at the turn of every decade, she said, but this decade the reunion was moved up by two years to meet the sesquicentennial celebration.

Connie Haggard ’58 told The Sun about how she still remembered when her husband Dick Haggard ’58 competed to be a chimesmaster. The couple, who have been married for exactly 60 years, met freshman year and married on the day of graduation.

The celebration also featured Carrington’s introduction of the Chimes’ history, in which he said the 21-bell instrument has accompanied the Cornell and Ithaca community through multiple eras of tragedy and turmoil.

“From World Wars I and II, to the civil unrest in the 1960’s, to the tragedy of September 11th, the Chimes have often been around to let the people of Cornell and Ithaca know that they are not alone in their anger, their fear, or their sorrow,” Carrington said.

Alumni and current students alike have fond memories of listening to the daily ringing. In a speech, Michelle Vaeth ’98, associate vice president of alumni affairs, shared testimonies from alumni, in which one alumnus recalled listening to the Chimes during the Vietnam War while another remembered feeling energetic when walking up Libe Slope after hearing “In The Mood.”

“The Chimes is one of those ubiquitous experiences that every student and alumni has,” Vaeth said.

“You would hear the chimes and people would just smile,” Penny Haikins ’65 told The Sun.

The festivities concluded with a birthday song to the Chimes by the Cornell Chorus and the Cornell Glee Club — also celebrating their sesquicentennial this year.