UW News

May 22, 2008

Bell dedication planned for May 31

More than 200 invited guests will help “ring in” the new bells in Gerberding Hall’s tower on Saturday, May 31. And after the dedication ceremonies, the public will be able to hear the bells’ first “concert,” beginning at about 11:45 a.m. The eight bells were donated to the University by the Gordon Stuart Peek Foundation.

President Mark A. Emmert will kick off the celebration at 11 a.m. in Red Square with remarks acknowledging all those who made the event possible, beginning with Peek, a UW alumnus who still lives in the Wallingford house where he grew up and remembers hearing the University’s chimes playing. (In 1912 Seattle Times publisher A.J. Blethen gave the University 12 bells which were placed in a converted water tower and played daily until their destruction in a fire in 1949.)

“George Bailey, the man who played for years, had a sense of humor,” Peek recalled. “When the time would change from standard to daylight savings time or back again, he’d play God’s Time is the Best Time, and when it was exam week, he’d play I Need Thee Every Hour.”

Although those chimes were replaced by an electronic carillon and later by digital chimes played on a keyboard, Peek has long wanted the University to have bells designed for change ringing — with each bell operated by a single ringer pulling a rope.

“The other bells are amplified electronically,” he said. “I wanted the University to have real bells that are played without any augmentation.” Peek’s recent gift provided for the purchase and installation of the bells, which will be maintained through an endowment to the School of Music.

At the dedication, Peek will follow President Emmert with remarks of his own. A historian who taught for many years in the area, he is a music lover and was the organist and choir master at his church for 30 years. His travels to England, where change ringing is common, and to Belgium and the Netherlands, where different types of bells are cast and played, led to his enthusiasm for bells.

In England, it is common for each bell in a set, or ring, to have an inscription. Each of the eight bells in the UW’s ring has the name of one of Peek’s family members etched on it.

After Peek’s remarks, Rebecca Woodgate, a UW oceanographer and bell ringer who helped facilitate the donation, will speak about the process of bringing the bells to the University. Then there will be a ceremonial toast of sparkling cider and a small group will ascend the tower with Emmert and Peek to chime each bell one time. The group includes William H. Gates, a UW regent; Woodgate; Robin McCabe, director of the School of Music; Ivan Turner, project manager for the bell installation; Elaine Ethier, a development officer who worked on the gift; and Don Swisher, a friend of Peek’s. Swisher is representing his wife Gloria, a longtime School of Music visiting committee member who is unable to be present. Afterwards there will be a luncheon for officials and guests in Suzzallo Library.

A band of local and visiting change ringers will begin a more formal performance on the bells at 11:45 a.m.

The UW’s ring of bells is one of fewer than 50 in the United States, with the closest ones being in Chicago and in Abilene, Texas. There is also a ring in Honolulu. However, Canada has its share of bells, including rings in Vancouver and Victoria, BC, both of which are sending representatives to participate in the UW’s first ring.

Lyn Barnett, the president of the North American Guild of Change Ringers, who lives in Atlanta, will also be coming to the celebration. Bob Smith, of Taylors, Eayre and Smith bell foundry, who supervised the installation of the bells, will be present as well to make sure they are operating properly and to participate in the ringing. 

After the initial dedication, The Gordon Stuart Peek Foundation Bells will be rung in times of celebration or remembrance by a trained band of volunteers. The University will offer training courses for those interested in learning change ringing. Anyone interested should contact Rebecca Woodgate, woodgate@apl.washington.edu, who is serving as tower captain.