Timothy Zerlang, official Hoover Tower carillonneur, reflects on more than a decade of experience

Dec. 1, 2014, 9:27 a.m.
(Courtesy of Timothy Zerlang)
(Courtesy of Timothy Zerlang)

Timothy Zerlang D.M.A. ’89 is a lecturer in the Stanford music department and the current University carillonneur, the official player of Hoover Tower’s carillon bells. The Daily sat down with Zerlang to reflect on his more than a decade of experience with the Hoover Tower bells.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): How did you become the University carillonneur?

Timothy Zerlang (TZ): I was a grad student here in the music department. I was here on campus, and I heard the bells. I was intrigued by them, and I got myself introduced to the guy that played them, Jim Angell. I went up, and that was my first lesson. I was here as a music student so it didn’t take that [long] to learn how to play them.

TSD: What is your favorite part about being University carillonneur?

TZ: It is nice to be able to go up to Hoover Tower at odd times. It is the highest office on campus and possibly the noisiest. The keyboard is right up on the observation deck. I used to go up at night and play during the holidays, and it was fun to see all of the lights – to go up during the Fourth of July and see the fireworks.

TSD: According to a University document, all of the fruit trees on campus belong to you. Is that true?

TZ: Technically, all of the citrus [fruit] that falls from the University trees belongs to the University carillonneur.

TSD: When did you first hear about this?

TZ: [The previous carillonneur] told me about this years ago. He was here in the ’40s, and he liked to tell this story. It is real. I’ve heard it from other sources. It has appeared in print. It is either a long-standing urban myth, or it is true.

TSD: Have you ever thought about exercising your authority?

TZ: No, but I have felt like yelling at students that I have seen picking oranges off the tree – saying [to them], “Wait, those could be mine!”

TSD: What is your favorite thing to play on the bells?

TZ: I like to play things that are written for the bells – that take advantage of the sound. If there is something truly weird coming from the top of the tower, that is probably [a song I chose] because I like the modern stuff.

TSD: Do students ever make strange requests?

TZ: One time, someone gave me some Mario Brothers’ music. I played several of these things on the bells, and so many of my students commented because they recognized it. I guess so many of them had grown up playing these games. It really struck a chord with them.

TSD: How would you compare our bells to Berkeley’s?

TZ: Well, they are better of course. Having said that required statement, ours are different. We have a different sound musically. Their bells were made by three or four different foundries, and they [were] done in stages. Our bells were initially created by a single foundry, and then that instrument was remade in 2000 and reinstalled in 2002. Of that original set of bells, we only have 13 left. The rest of them were cast intentionally to imitate the original bells, so we have a rather homogeneous sound throughout the instrument, and Berkeley does not. Berkeley’s changes – you can tell where one set of bells ends and another set begins. I think that is the main difference. Unfortunately, they have more bells than we have; their bells go lower and higher than ours do.

TSD: What is the most memorable moment you have had as University carillonneur?

TZ: It was worth a few stories to tell — [for example] when the Secret Service kicked me out of the tower. It was back when Chelsea Clinton was a student here. I got my security clearance, and I’m up there, and they knew I was going to play. I start playing, and they immediately tell me to stop. They hadn’t connected the dots that it was loud, and my playing would impact their communications. So I like to now tell people that I got kicked out of the tower by the Secret Service. I didn’t even get to play one piece. I don’t even think the Clintons knew what they were missing.

TSD: Have you had any other memorable moments during your time as University carillonneur?

TZ: The Crown Prince, now King of Belgium, and his wife, now Queen of Belgium, came up [to the bells]. She played the bells. We played a duet together. He was a former student here, and they were also here to dedicate something…In retrospect, I may have coerced her just a little bit. But she was very game and did it.

Contact Sam Reamer at sreamer ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Sam Reamer '18 is a staff writer covering University and local news. He is from Santa Monica, California. To contact Sam, email him at sreamer ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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