Remembering Tom Anderson, Who Tolled UT’s Bells for Six Decades

FB_Tower-Bells_1955Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 12:50 p.m., the dulcet tones of the Tower bells ring out across the campus. As students and professors walk to class or lunch, it’s a few moments of peace in the middle of a busy day.

For 61 years, the man responsible for that music was university carillonneur Tom Anderson, who died on Aug. 18 at age 93 after a long illness.

Anderson, BM ’53, MM ’56, Life Member, arrived at the university as a student in 1939. After service in World War II in the Navy, he returned to his studies in 1950 and took up the carillon in 1952, taking it over from his brother, David. Music ran in the family—Anderson’s sister and young brother majored in music, as did he. He played the clarinet in the Longhorn Band and was a member of the Longhorn Singers.

Anderson played the carillon from 1952-56 and started up again in 1967. After that, he didn’t stop until 2013, when complications from Parkinson’s disease made it too difficult.

He enjoyed playing a wide variety of musical selections and often took requests from students (with the most frequent being ‘Happy Birthday’).

“Fridays in the fall, I usually play ‘Texas Fight’ and ‘The Eyes of Texas,'” Anderson said in a UT video. “On April Fools Day I play Christmas carols!”

Anderson was also known for his wry sense of humor. For many years, he played Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ on the first day of finals, and when Josef Stalin died in 1953, he played the elegy ‘Massa’s in de Cold Ground.’

“He still giggled when he told that story about the Stalin joke,” recalled Austin Ferguson, BA ’15, Life Member, a student carillonneur who trained with Anderson. “Apparently, someone from the Un-American Activities Committee called because they thought he was a Communist.”

“I remember him playing ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’ whether we were in drought or it was pouring outside,” associate vice president for student affairs Donna Bellinghausen told the Austin American-Statesman.

Ferguson, a past president of the Guild of Student Carillonneurs at UT, said that Anderson relished the opportunity to teach students how to play one of the largest, strangest, and most difficult instruments in the musical world.

“He told me his favorite thing was getting to play the role of the master teacher, passing along the art on to his students,” Ferguson said. “It’s such a rare thing to do, to play the carillon, and I know he really enjoyed sharing it. He also just loved the sound, the feel, and the joy of playing the bells.”