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UCSB carillonist teaches students to perform in Storke Tower

UCSB's carillon in Storke Tower has 61 bells. The largest bell, shown here, weighs 2.5 tons.
Beth Thornton
UCSB's carillon in Storke Tower has 61 bells. The largest bell, shown here, weighs 2.5 tons.

The music department at UC Santa Barbara offers a course in carillon — an instrument consisting of 61 bells located at the top of Storke Tower in the center of campus.

Wesley Arai, UCSB’s carillonist, recently played a Sunday concert that filled the campus air with classical Mozart and Bach, as well as more contemporary pieces.

“A carillon is an instrument that consists of 23 bells or more. They’re bronze bells and they’re played by a person, not by computer. You play with your hands and fists, so it’s kind of like an organ in that regard,” Arai said.

Arai is an instructor in UCSB’s music department. He is currently teaching four students to play the carillon.

“The actual keyboard has what we call batons for the hands, they kind of look like the ends of broomsticks jutting out towards you that you play with your fists, and you also have a pedal board down below for your feet, so it’s quite a workout,” he said.

Wesley Arai teaches carillon to UCSB students. His concerts are open to the public.
Beth Thornton
Wesley Arai teaches carillon to UCSB students. Concerts are scheduled throughout the year and the public is invited to attend.

He teaches students one-on-one, yet they rarely practice in the tower due to its proximity to the library.

“We don’t actually take lessons in the tower most of the time, we have a practice instrument that lives in the music building and that’s where the students can practice without bothering the neighbors,” he said.

Arai said students express a sense of awe when they do get the opportunity to play way up high for all the campus to hear.

“We have 61 bells here, I think the biggest one weighs two and a half tons, so 5,000 pounds. In total, I believe it’s about 18 tons of metal in the bells themselves,” Arai said.

According to UCSB’s website, there are only six of these manually operated carillons in California – four of them in towers on college campuses, the others in cathedrals.

Arai’s concerts are open to the public, and there’s also a student performance this fall.

Check the UCSB music department website for more information.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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