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University of Montana celebrates 70th anniversary of famed clocktower bells

The chiming of the bells has occurred daily for the students and faculty since homecoming in 1953.
University of Montana Bells
Posted at 9:55 AM, Oct 20, 2023

MISSOULA — The chiming of the famous Carillon bells echoed across the University of Montana campus on Thursday.

A historic celebration is underway to commemorate the 70 years the bells have played for the students and faculty of UM.

Located in the bell tower of Main Hall — the University's oldest building — the Carillon is made up of 47 bells and collectively weighs 12 tons.

Before the installation of the Carillon, the Victory Bell was housed in the tower and rung to celebrate Grizzly football victories, often for hours.

In 1947, University of Montana President James McCain declared the bell could be rung for only one hour after each victory.

Barbara Ballas, the current carillonneur for UM, makes her way to the belltower every weekday for the traditional noon performance.

The event features 15 minutes of a musical arrangement handpicked by Ballas.

“I select the music depending on the season or what might be going on near campus or holidays or whatever I feel like playing, whatever I want to learn,” Ballas said.

According to Ballas, the bells ranged in price from $100 to $2,000 when installed in 1953.

She added that two more bells still awaiting purchase and dedication would give the Carillon its intended full four-octave range.

“This is a memorial Carillon, so every single bell, whenever I play, it is being played in memory of someone or a group of people,” Ballas said.