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By Whom the Bell Tolls
Law School Staffer Makes Music in Sather Tower

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
Posted September 1, 1999

Photo: David Hunsberger

Carillonist David Hunsberger plays Sather Tower's five-octave carillon. Jane Scherr photo.

A School of Law staffer, high in Sather Tower, is the man behind the music ringing from Sather Tower's carillon at midday.

In the absence of University Carilloneur Geert D'hollander -- on leave this semester -- David Hunsberger takes a noon-time break from Boalt Hall's Office of the Dean, where he serves as executive secretary, to play the world's largest and loudest instrument, the carillon, from the campanile's bell chamber.

On a quarter-time appointment with the School of Music this semester, Hunsberger, who holds a doctorate in music from Washington University in St. Louis, also performs the traditional 10-minute recital at 8 a.m. weekdays and the 45-minute performance Sundays at 2 p.m. Berkeley students who have been studying carillon are largely responsible for the 6 p.m. recitals, a few of which have been canceled in past weeks due to a shortage of musicians.

It was the Dorothy Sayers murder mystery "The Nine Tailors," set partly in a bell tower, that first piqued Hunsberger's interest in the unusual instrument during his teens. For a high school English paper that he wrote soon afterward, Hunsberger interviewed the carilloneur at Riverside Church in Manhattan, who later taught him to play.

Though this is the first time that Hunsberger has regularly performed the campanile's noontime recital, he has played the Sather Tower carillon since 1983.

"It's probably the best carillon in California," Hunsberger says, "and certainly the biggest."

Sixty-one bells covering five octaves, Berkeley's carillon is one of only five in California with a mechanical playing action. "Big bear bell," the largest and the biggest bell west of the Rockies, weighs five and a quarter tons.

"You have to use some muscle power to get those big clappers to move," says Hunsberger. An overzealous player, he notes, can easily overdo it. "You have to learn to keep a serene frame of mind."

Serene mind, yes, but a small sound, never.

"Yesterday at noon, I played a piece," says Hunsberger. "Someone who lived beyond Claremont Avenue told me he heard parts of it."


September 1 - 7, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 4)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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