The chimes that play every hour from Geisel Library are not a recording. 74 individual chime bells make up the carillon, one of UC San Diego’s oldest instruments. Scott Paulson, a 1984 UCSD alumnus, rings them five days a week.
The carillon rings every hour from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Monday through Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on the weekends through automatic tolling. However, special songs are played at noon throughout the week in the rooftop carillon room, sometimes at the request of students and faculty, all hand-played by Paulson.
“Being on the roof of Geisel Library is a breath-of-fresh-air opportunity—and playing song requests is rewarding,” Paulson told The Triton. He has been playing the bells since 1993.
The chimes were first installed on the roof of Geisel Library in 1989, as a donation from Joe Rubinger, who founded the Institute for Continued Learning at UCSD in 1975. The carillon came with pre-programmed songs and was originally used to toll the hour. However, in 1993, Paulson was invited to play the carillon’s first live performance when the UCSD Central Library was rededicated.
“The warning song that alerts you to a tolling was and is also automatic. The fun part was and is when you use the bells beyond that, for special occasions: live,” Paulson said.
Later that year, Paulson was asked to play again in honor of Rubinger’s 99th birthday. In 1994, Paulson was named the first University Carillonneur by Chancellor Richard Atkinson on Rubinger’s 100th birthday, as “an acknowledgement to Joe that the chimes would be cared for and utilized,” according to Paulson.
23 years later, Paulson carries the same duty every day yet still manages to keep his daily activities new and exciting by hosting events and exhibits at the library.
“Every day is different and new,” Paulson said. “The library has massive hours of operation and the ever-changing scheduling needs keeps things atypical for me. The ever-changing student population also keeps things atypical for me.”
Outside of carillon-playing, Paulson produces, writes, and hosts live radio drama segments for his show, “Esther Tale Radio Theater” on wsradio.com. Segments include “A Night of Shakespeare” and “Brickley Mansion Museum Mysteries.” The show has been praised as “an out-of-the-ordinary experience,” by the Los Angeles Times, and Paulson as “an avant-garde vaudevillian,” by the San Diego Union–Tribune.
Paulson also plays other instruments such as the harp, the theremin, and the oboe. But the beauty of the carillon draws him back to the chimes.
“The first time I ever noticed a carillon play, it chimed out, ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,’ and I had no idea where it was coming from. I made the connection that it was the clock tower chimes and was so moved by the notion that an institutional clock could also sing out like that. That’s what I’m hoping occasionally happens on campus here when I play song requests,” Paulson said.
Paulson continues to stay involved with students through his work by commissioning music pieces from students, which he performs on the first day of classes every quarter and on the birthday of Rubinger, according to ThisWeek @ UCSD.
He also accepts song requests from the public. When requesting a song, Paulson recommends to pick three different noontime dates to accommodate both of their schedules with options. He also recommends choosing songs with slow paces to increase sound quality.
“Some songs don’t translate well to the bells. Slower songs with bigger intervals and larger leaps tend to do well,” Paulson said. “Also, there is no such thing as a short note on that instrument—everything is long bell tones. So, try to keep that in mind.”
Students and faculty can request songs by emailing Paulson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anabel King is a staff writer at The Triton.