Curious Tritons: Why don’t we have tours of the carillon bells at Geisel Library?

Walk around Geisel Library during the day at any hour, on the hour, and you’re bound to hear one unlikely sound — the melodious sound of carillon bells more commonly synonymous with cathedrals.

The bells, which were installed in the late 1980s and were first played on Sept. 21, 1989, were donated to the university by educational patron Joe Rubinger, a scientific researcher who co-founded the Institute for Continued Learning at UC San Diego with his wife, Irene.

While the bells generally play pre-programed songs, Scott Paulson, a staff member at the UCSD Library, has been playing the bells weekly since 1992.

“I wanted to start a song-request series and was able to get permission to start playing the carillon “live” on the roof of Geisel around 1992,” Paulson said in an interview with the UCSD Guardian. “To do this, I climb up to the top of the Library and [went] into a small rooftop structure that houses the chimes. In that little bunker there is a small, three-octave, piano-like keyboard. That’s where I sit to fulfill requests.”

Paulson explained that recently, he has only been playing requests on the carillon bells once a week. This usually takes place on Fridays, and for events like Dr. Seuss Day, World Aids Day, and the Sept. 11 Commemoration.

“These days, I only play about once per week,” Paulson said. “I also check my calendar for non-Friday requests, and I have special notes regarding scheduled official campus ceremonies.  There’s extra music during Triton Spirit Week.”

One other special occasion that Paulson honors with the bells annually is Joe Rubinger’s birthday.

“[Joe] insisted that our campus should have clock chimes playing lively song requests and I am glad to make sure he gets his way,” Paulson said. “We often commission student composers to write new works for our chimes and we premiere them on Joe’s birthday.”

Paulson mentioned that the only time in the carillon bells’ thirty year existence went silent was when Rubinger passed away at the age of 103 in 1997.

“Joe specifically stated that no memorial service should be held, but his colleagues insisted on hosting one, featuring Joe’s favorite songs from the carillon,” Paulson said. “I reluctantly played, but the next day the instrument fell mysteriously silent and technicians from the Maas-Rowe Carillon Company had to be called in to trouble-shoot.  Many of us feel this sudden silence was spirited revenge from Joe for disobeying him. He obviously forgave us, because the chimes never again failed after that incident.”

But the question remains: Why don’t we have tours of the carillon bells at Geisel Library?

“Tours of the carillon aren’t offered because the roof of the Library isn’t really set up for visitors,” Paulson explained. “You have to do a bit of crawling to get to the chimes and it’s not really safe for the average visitor.”

UCSD Library is currently celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the carillon bell’s installation. Paulson is currently taking requests from students, faculty, and community members via email at spaulson@ucsd.edu. Paulson responds to requestor emails to alert them of the date of their chosen song’s performance.

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