Before Sunday’s Baccalaureate, the religious service honoring graduating seniors, listen for the bells of the Wait Chapel carillon.
It will be Kathryn Rohrer (’11), an economics major and English minor from Richmond, Va., at the keyboard, ending her two-year tenure as a guest University carillonneur.
She will be leaving the instrument that delights the campus every weekday at 5 p.m., when bells ring out a powerfully melodic symphony. Sometimes it is a classical piece, unrecognizable to the average college student, but sometimes it is the theme song of Harry Potter or Coldplay’s “Clocks.” Rohrer played two “recitals” a week; University carillonneur Lauren R. Bradley (’05) and guest carillonneur Ray Ebert (’60) performed on the other days.
“I can play whatever I want,” Rohrer told me. She sometimes chooses from a drawer full of classical music arranged for the carillon. “What’s the most fun is picking songs I know people will recognize on the Quad,” she said, citing The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” as an all-time favorite.
She likes to have fun with the music. “Lauren and I did a duet of Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ once,” she said. On Feb. 24 she played “Happy Birthday” to mark the 22nd birthday of her friend Ellie Poole (’11).
“When I think of Kathryn Rohrer, I think of smiles, laughing, reading, music, maturity and a woman of great faith,” said Della Hinman, a senior from Winston-Salem. The two sing in the University’s women’s Christian a cappella group Minor Variation.
A longtime piano player, Rohrer was taking private lessons during her freshman year with music professor Louis Goldstein (P ’93, ’06) when Bradley emailed Goldstein about her search for more student carillon players. “Dr. Goldstein mentioned it to me,” Rohrer said. “I thought, ‘I don’t even know what this is, but I’ll meet her and see.’” She went to watch Bradley play and concluded, “This is really cool.”
Rohrer enrolled in a course in Winston-Salem that summer to study the instrument, which is similar to an organ and features bronze cup-shaped bells. A carillonneur strikes the keyboard with fists and presses the keys of the pedal keyboard with feet. The University’s 12-ton Janet Jeffrey Carlile Harris Carillon, one of the few carillons still played manually, consists of 48 bronze bells donated by reverends and friends of the University in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Twenty-seven of the bells bear a cast inscription of dedication, verse or prose. One of the more popular inscriptions is on the bass B-flat bell, unofficially known as the “Arnold Palmer Bell”: “I celebrate the Deacons’ achievements on the playing fields: winning baskets, home runs and touchdowns, long drives and short putts.” And as the University chaplain’s website notes, visiting musicians and weary students respond well to Beethoven’s message on the second C bell:
I will grapple with fate:
It shall not overcome me.
University carillonneur is not a title Rohrer envisioned for herself at college, but it’s one she’s come to love. “It’s fun to be a part of the public life of campus, but I’m anonymous,” she said. “No one really knows that it’s me, but the whole campus can hear me, which is kind of crazy.”
Hinman said when she hears the bells, they seem “a special, personal gift to campus that day from Kathryn.”
As the child who never minded practicing piano after school, Rohrer still loves making music: “There’s nothing in the air, and then you sit down and you create something beautiful for people to hear.”
— Jessie Ammons (’12) is a communication major with a double minor in journalism and entrepreneurship and social enterprise from Wake Forest, N.C.