Virginia Tech Magazine
Virginia Tech

Hear ye, the bells of Burruss
Photos by Kelsey Kradel
Multimedia by Megan Donald and Gabrielle Minnich
Seven times a day on weekdays and five times on Saturdays and Sundays, the Burruss Hall carillon covers the Drillfield with the chiming of bells.

Source of the sound

If you're picturing a bell tower straight out of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, you're in for a surprise. In a small closet adjacent to the light box for the building's 3,003-seat auditorium, you won't find physical bells at all. The ringing comes from an electronic carillon, donated by the Class of 1958 in 1997 at a cost of $39,911.

Two boxes house the electronic system, which connects to eight speakers on the roof, each with a 2-foot diameter. At 120 decibels, the volume is roughly equivalent to a loud rock concert. In order to house enough bells to produce the same amount and quality of sound, the entire third floor would be needed to house them, said Kim Briele, associate director of operations engineering at Virginia Tech.

Then and now

Although Burruss Hall was built in 1936, the original carillon wasn't added until 1957, using money left over from the construction of the War Memorial Chapel. In fact, the original "bell" wasn't a bell at all; it used paper rolls, akin to those used by a player piano.

Most of the time, Briele doesn't have to touch the system. It's entirely automatic, playing random selections from a pool of more than 200 songs by a diverse medley of artists, ranging from Bach to the Beatles.

A personal touch

On occasions such as Founders Day or memorial events, Blacksburg native and piano teacher Sharon Knight will play the keyboard. She even has some Tech-specific sheet music, such as "Moonlight and VPI," a song composed in 1942 for the Ring Dance.

Upon request, the bells can be played at a specific time, such as for the recessional of a wedding at the chapel. "Some people take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the Drillfield and have the bells played," said Briele.


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Spring 2011
Sharon Knight, a Blacksburg native and piano teacher, plays the bells of Burruss.
SHARON KNIGHT: "[Growing up, I] could hear the bells from my house and was always fascinated by them."
Hear the electronic carillon
The electronic carillon donated
by the Class of 1958 in 1997.