Behind the bells — Baylor carillonneur discusses the campus tradition

The bells of Baylor’s Pat Neff Tower clang every honor on the hour. The bells were installed in 1988, and are currently played by Lynnette Geary, assistant to the dean, and carillonneur. Photo Illustration by Caleb Boren | Roundup

By David Garza | Reporter

The sound of bells at Baylor is a campus staple, clanging every day on the hour for the community to hear. These bells are known as the carillon.

The carillon, located in Pat Neff’s tower, is composed of 48 bells, classifying it as a concert-sized carillon. The lower 28 bells have the Baylor seal, a frieze and inscriptions. The inscriptions can be found on a plaque in the foyer of Pat Neff Hall. Every president of Baylor through Dr. Herbert Reynolds has a quote on one of the bells.

The clappers on the lower eight bells were replaced during October, and the bells no longer swing due to the stress they put on the tower and the lack of musical control.

The carillonneur, the person who plays the carillon, is Lynnette Geary, assistant to the dean. Geary studied for five years with Dr. Herbert Colvin, the carillonneur when the bells were first installed in 1988, and then went on to pass her exam for the Guild of Carillonneurs in 1996.

According to Geary, the carillon can be played and heard within the room with speakers but she prefers to play with the hatch open. The hour strikes are automatic and songs can be recorded using a keyboard stored in the system to be played at a certain time. The carillon can also be played using hands and feet with pedals that “duplicate the bottom two octaves.”

For Veteran’s Day,Geary performed a piece that was played for the dedication of the Peace Carillon in Belgium to commemorate the “100th anniversary of the end of World War One.” “For a rather somber occasion…this piece kind of sets the tone for it…it’s based on a Gregorian chant,” Geary said. “Last year, the Student Veterans Association wanted to honor a particular branch of the Armed Forces each day of the week, so I played their song each day at noon.”

Geary performs several times throughout the academic year, including performances for Thanksgiving, Christmas and graduations. Geary said she has also played “That Good Old Baylor Line” for a wedding, as it was requested by both a bride and groom, both of whom were Baylor alumni.

Geary also gives lessons through Baylor’s School of Music, although the class is limited to a small number of students. Geary currently only has one student and will have two during the spring.

Houston senior Kayelee Ellis is Geary’s sole student this semester. Aside from their 45 – minute, once a week lesson, Ellis said she practices alone four days of the week.

“I’m a social work major,” Ellis said. “Most people that get carillon lessons are in music ed… I found out that I could get lessons with the carillon, so I emailed [Geary] and she let me in.”

After showing Geary what she could play and that she could read music due to her previous experience playing the piano, Geary determined that she had “enough experience to try this new instrument,” and she was accepted into the class.

Ellis said she first heard of the carillon when she missed a tour of the instrument because of a broken ankle. The following year she emailed Geary as a community leader and asked if she could give her residents a tour of the carillon. This was when Geary and Ellis first interacted and discussed the possibility of learning how to play the instrument.

“It’s so cool to see this giant instrument that you can hear across all of campus and know that anyone from anywhere around can hear it,” Ellis said. “Once I realized that what that also meant is anytime I practice all of campus can hear me practicing, that’s a little intimidating and scary. But it’s so cool to be a part of one of the main centers of campus…Pat Neff and the carillon are so iconic and a Baylor tradition. Everyone notices when the carillon stops working.”

According to Ellis, she is currently playing “The Ash Grove” and will be playing “White Christmas” and “A Little Town of Bethlehem” over Christmas.

Ellis plans to continue working with Geary and the carillon next semester.

“I don’t think a lot of people know that Geary specifically does performances all of the time,” Ellis said. “Any time it’s a special day that Baylor is hosting, if you’re hearing the bells, and it’s playing something you don’t normally hear, she’s probably performing. The more you listen, the more you start to hear the depth of the carillon and the differences in the tones and bells and you can start to recognize the different dynamics and all of the emotion she puts into it.”