Ring Them Bells

issue 03 | fall 2015
UnCommon Ground: Ring Them Bells

It’s one of those familiar, comforting Denison routines: on weekdays at 9:20 a.m., 11:20 a.m., and 6:20 p.m., the campus fills with music pealing from Swasey bell tower. Even though the bells are a consistent part of daily life on the Hill, the bell ringers, who consider themselves a “semisecret society,” remain cloaked in mystery.

Until now.

Since both of last year’s bell ringers were graduating seniors, they agreed to divulge their identities. Kaity Milillo ’15 got involved as a first-year when she saw an ad on myDenison asking, “Can you read music and climb a ladder?” “I thought, yes, I can!” she recalls. Two years later, she suggested that her roommate Katie Rosa ’15, who could also read music and climb a ladder, apply.

So, just how secret is “semisecret?” “I tried to keep it a secret as much as possible,” says Rosa, who told only close friends about her bell-ringing alter ego. Even this, she admits, wasn’t a watertight security plan: “I’ve definitely had issues of walking out of Swasey after ringing and running into people who practically scream that I am a bell ringer.”

Bell ringing at Denison has always been a student-led endeavor, although it has evolved over the years. “Originally we had only 10 bells that were rung by pulling ropes that extended several stories down from the Swasey bell tower,” explains Kim West, program coordinator for The Open House (the College’s Center for Religious and Spiritual Life) and advisor for Denison’s Swasey Chapel Bell Ringers. Nowadays, students climb a ladder to play a small, piano-like keyboard, which was expanded by six new bells in May 2013 by former President Dale Knobel.

And indeed, for both bell ringers and listeners, the expansiveness of the players’ repertoires is much of the fun: on a given day, selections might include a classic hymn, a Beatles tune, and The Big Bang Theory’s “Soft Kitty.” On the night of President Adam Weinberg’s inaugural ball in 2012, “I Feel Pretty,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and the “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” were played back-to-back.

Published November 2015
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