Behind the Bells: Student plays bells at Guthrie twice a month

Bowling Green freshman Nathaniel Brown plays the keyboard that controls the Guthrie bells on Friday. Brown plays the bells twice a month and often chooses the songs he plays.

Alexis Custard

Many people probably hear the bells playing from Guthrie Bell Tower as they make their way through campus. But they might not know that sometimes, someone is actually playing them.

Bowling Green freshman Nathaniel Brown started playing the bells last semester as a part of the Mitzi Groom Scholarship that he received.

Brown plays the bells twice a month, usually on Fridays at 3 p.m. Sometimes Mitzi Groom, the music department head, plays the bells.

Most of the time, though, they’re set on a timer to play automatically, Brown said.

The bells are played on the top floor of the Academic Complex with the help of an electronic manual keyboard, he said. When they play automatically, the keyboard is hooked to a computer.

“When I play, there is about a half-second delay, so I usually have to play ice a month, he spends time on weekends arranging the music to play, he said.

He has been given a few selections, including patriotic songs and WKU’s fight song, to play, but as long as it’s appropriate for the time of year or something people would be familiar with, he can play it, he said.

“I don’t play music written for the carillon (bells),” he said. “I take well-known melodies and harmonize them myself on a music sheet. I try to make the music specific to the holiday.”

Bowling Green sophomore Anna Beth Gillon met Brown at a birthday party over the summer and got the chance to witness him playing the bells.

“The first time I got to see him play, I thought it was awesome and a great experience,” Gillon said. “I never knew it was someone in a separate room playing, and it’s really cool that he gets to do that.”

Although Brown loves playing the bells, it’s often hard to come up with material, and sometimes he wants to play songs that aren’t technically possible because they would sound “messy” on the bells, he said.

“I have to practice a lot and think really hard about appropriate selections,” Brown said.

LaGrange senior Amanda Newman said the bell tower was one of the first things she noticed when she came to WKU.

She said the bells make WKU different from other campuses, and sometimes she just listens to them to relax.

“The way that the bells harmonize and the music flows together throughout the campus is beautiful,” Newman said. “It’s amazing to know that someone so talented can create such a masterpiece.”

Brown plans on playing the bells for as long as the scholarship allows him to, but he’s not sure when that time is up.

“I think it’s really neat to play something that resonates all over campus and part of town,” Brown said. “I play a recital that everyone in the whole area of town listens to, and I think it’s an honor to play this instrument in such a grand monument.”