Hark the Sound

Patrick VanderJeugdt, a senior chemistry major and sustainability minor from Waxhaw, has secret access to all the charms of Carolina’s iconic Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower. Funded by John Motley Morehead, who graduated in 1891, and Rufus Lenoir Patterson II, the bell tower was dedicated by the University in 1931. VanderJeugdt is among a long line of master bell ringers who helps keep alive traditions like seniors’ pre-graduation trek to the tune of the bell tower’s chimes.

Q: How did you become the bell tower ringer?

A: The job has been passed down the lineage in my fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, for the past six to seven years. The duty is undertaken by a senior each year.

Q: What do your duties consist of? How often to you go to the bell tower itself?

A: I get asked to do anything from helping with marriage proposals to ringing the bells for special events, like Bill Friday’s memorial service. During football season, I am responsible for ringing the bells during the Old Well Walk and after the game, when I always play “Hark the Sound.” And if we win I’ll even throw in “Carolina Victory.” I’m usually only in the tower once every week or two.

Patrick Vanderjeugdt on the ledge of the clock face inside UNC’s Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower. (photo by Mary Lide Parker)

Q: Do you have any experience in music or audio programming/production?

A: I do not have any previous experience with the technical side of music, but the system is not particularly difficult to learn. Although I have been in a variety of musical ensembles as both a cellist and a vocalist since the fifth grade, so I do have a good amount of experience in the musical performance realm.

Q: What sort of special requests have you done?

A: I have helped with a marriage proposal, I’ve given tours for anniversary surprises, and I even spent two hours climbing around the scaffolding in the motor room getting the lights set up to turn the clock faces blue for Week of Welcome earlier this year.

UNC’s iconic Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower (photo by Dan Sears)

Q: What’s your favorite tune or memory associated with the bell tower?

A: My favorite memory is probably the first time I got to go up in the cupola where the bells are housed. It was neat to see most of our awesome campus and the surrounding area, and I enjoyed getting to experience reading all of the Morehead’s and Patterson’s names inscribed on the bells.

Q: Are there any myths or stories associated with the bell tower that you find interesting?

A: There aren’t any myths, but my favorite story to tell is the history of the original bell ringing method. On the balcony level of the tower, there is a wooden structure that looks like an old loom, and it was the old practice console that was used for the team of bell ringers to get accustomed to ringing the bells. There is a spring on each lever that mimics the tension of having to pull the rope of a bell four stories above you. The actual console isn’t in the tower anymore, but you can see the 12 holes in the floor of each level that used to house the ropes with which the bells were rung.

Q: Do many people know about what you do?

A: I think a large number of my friends and coworkers know what I do, but it doesn’t really change my life at all. I kind of consider myself a secret celebrity; everybody knows that somebody does the job, but not everybody knows that it’s me.

Q: What does being the bell ringer mean to you?

A: This university has given a lot to me in the form of education and opportunity, and I sort of see this as a way to give back the gift of music and school spirit. Whenever I’m up ringing the bells during football game days, it is always nice to see people’s faces light up when they hear our school songs coming from the tower.

Q: What do you plan to do after graduation?

A: My personal plans after graduation are to attend law school, hopefully at UNC, and go on to work as a patent attorney.

[Interview by Kristen Chavez ’13, video by Beth Lawrence ’12]