Austin Ferguson

Austin Ferguson, student director for the Guild of Student Carillonneurs, tests the carillon’s bells at the top of the UT Tower.  Ferguson is one of nine students who play the bells throughout the week.

Photo Credit: Gabby Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

Check out Daily Texan Multimedia's video, "Return of the Carillon".

The ringing bells spilling the sweet sound of “The Eyes of Texas” from the UT Tower are playing again after months of silence.

The tower carillon had been out of commission since November to update and refurbish the instrument. The repair cost was estimated at $71,000, after a $331,000 walkway was built around the stacked bells.

Tim Verdin’s family company, Verdin Bells, repaired worn areas and replaced an out-of-date transmission system connecting the bells to the keyboard. Previously, the company installed the second half of the carillon in 1988. Verdin said the largest bells installed in the 1930s caused safety concerns using the original support hardware.

“Basically all the moving parts of the carillon were removed from the Tower and renovated,” Verdin said. “They were stripped down to their main components. Essentially what the University has ended up with is the instrument in the condition it was when it was originally installed in 1988.”

Verdin said 80 percent of the bearings holding the bells up were stiff or immobile and caked with sediment built up over the years. The 56 bells that make up the carillon range from 20 to 7,350 lbs.

“It’s a fairly open tower, so the equipment up there is taking pretty much the full brunt of UV exposure, moisture that’s in the air,” Verdin said. “It rains directly into the Tower, and dust on windy days.”

Music junior Austin Ferguson is the Guild of Student Carillonneurs student director. The guild consists of nine students who play the bells at various times throughout the week. Ferguson said the instrument now has a quicker response time.

“We’re trying to come in and practice to break in all these new parts and get used to it,” Ferguson said. “We try to limit how much we practice up here, though, because the whole campus can hear us.”

Ferguson said he’s heard from many people around campus who were glad to hear the carillon again when the bells were tested for sound quality and the “Westminster Quarter” began tolling every 15 minutes.

“It’s a great tradition that we’re glad to be continuing now that its been greatly enhanced,” Ferguson said. “It makes me feel good that it’s considered such a valuable part of campus and that people care when we’re not there playing.”

Ferguson tweeted Monday night that he would play a “little memorial concert” at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday for the Boston marathon bombing.

Jacy Meador, a music senior and guild member, said playing the carillon is similar to an organ requiring hand and foot playing, but the playing room is higher in the Tower than the clock faces.

“Not many people get to communicate with the entire campus,” Meador said. “When you play something that’s recognizable, especially something like ‘The Eyes of Texas,’ it really draws attention to the instrument and to us, but it’s also really anonymous. No one knows who’s up there playing it.”

Ferguson said he will continue taking requests from people hoping to hear a special song ring from the Tower.

“When I played ‘Call Me Maybe’ last summer it was a lot of fun and got the guild a lot of exposure,” Ferguson said. “In the past few months when it wasn’t [playing] we got a whole lot of requests and we’ll probably get more.”

Song requests can be sent to texascarrilon@gmail.com.

Printed on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 as Tower carillon back in action after extensive and expensive renovations 

Return of the Carillon from The Daily Texan on Vimeo.

Chad Womack, one of the owners of Bourbon Girl, prepares to open the bar on 6th Street Thursday afternoon. The Bourbon Girl opened Wednesday after waiting months for Yassine Enterprises’ TABC permit to be cancelled so they could obtain one of their own.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Several downtown Austin establishments were given new permits to sell alcohol after their previous tenants were evicted following a high-profile FBI raid and money laundering scandal last year.

The new permits from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which became effective Jan. 9, were given out to the establishments that took the places of bars owned by Yassine Enterprises. Hussein Ali “Mike” Yassine, Yassine Enterprises co-owner and permit holder, was convicted of money laundering in October 2012. 

The new establishments receiving permits from TABC are Bourbon Girl, 413 Bar, Chicago House and Castro’s Warehouse, according to a statement from TABC. These new bars will replace Spill, Treasure Island Pirate Bar, Fuel and Hyde, respectively, and are not affiliated with Yassine Enterprises.

Carmack Concepts, which owns Bourbon Girl in addition to bars including the Chuggin’ Monkey and the Dizzy Rooster, obtained the lease for Bourbon Girl in April 2012 but was forced to wait for Yassine’s permit to be canceled before receiving their own, Jason Carrier, owner of Carmack Concepts, said. Carrier said this delay significantly hampered the opening of their business.

“We could have opened in December,” Carrier said. “But we were at a complete standstill until we finally opened Wednesday night.”

Carrier said there should be new legislation regarding the number of TABC licenses that can be attached to a single address. Currently, only one license may be tied to each address, which can create administrative problems when original tenants have been evicted, Carrier said.

“The license becomes worthless if there’s not a valid lease attached to it,” Carrier said. “If a bar loses its lease, it should make the license null.”

Carolyn Beck, a TABC spokeswoman, said a temporary order was initially filed in March 2012 against eight of the bars owned by Yassine, prohibiting them from buying or selling alcohol on the premises until further action could be taken.

“In February or March, the FBI raided the Yassine locations, and that’s when it started,” Beck said. “It was March 22 when we filed the temporary order.”

Yassine also owned a restaurant, Stack Burger, which was placed under a similar order March 28, Beck stated in a statement. Additional suspensions were placed on the eight bars because of failure to pay taxes to the Office of the Comptroller, the statement read. 

Beck said once Yassine was found guilty of money laundering, it was easier for TABC to successfully have his permits removed.

“Yassine was convicted of crimes in court, so we used that felony conviction as evidence that he could no longer maintain control of those establishments,” Beck said. “By that time, he had already been evicted for nonpayment.”

Music junior Austin Ferguson said bars that closed, such as Kiss & Fly, will be greatly missed by patrons. Ferguson said the news of last year’s money laundering scandal was surprising.

“No matter what had gone on the day/week before, we could always go downtown to Kiss and just have fun without anybody caring our judging us,” Ferguson said. “I always knew the place was a little seedy — what downtown club isn’t? But the extent of what was going on during the day shocked me.”

Printed on Friday, January 18, 2013 as: Former Yassine bars receive permits 

Mathematics sophomore Alec Train sits on the South Mall while Disney music plays on the Tower bells, Saturday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Lingnan Chen | Daily Texan Staff

Disney enthusiasts had an opportunity to hear their favorite tunes ring throughout campus.

Austin Ferguson, music theory sophomore and member of the Guild of Student Carillonneurs, performed a playlist of 15 Disney songs on the carillon Saturday, the instrument controlling the bells at the top of the Tower.

The Guild of Student Carillonneurs is an organization that seeks to maintain a regular schedule of “bell ringing” throughout the academic year, where members can sign up to reserve a time to perform a piece of music at the Tower’s carillon.

“Playing the carillon is a lot of fun because it can be such an expressive instrument,” Ferguson said. “Some people think it can get boring and have a traditional sound, but if it is used properly, it can be a beautiful sound.”

The carillon resembles a mix of a piano and an organ, Ferguson said. The instrument has batons connected to wires which are connected to clappers. These clappers strike the bell and cast the sound that everybody hears.

To give students a break from the customary bell sounds, Ferguson said he decided on Disney songs because most students can remember listening to them throughout their childhood.

“Everybody really knows Disney songs,” Ferguson said. “I spoke with students as well as showcased songs on my YouTube channel to see what people would like to hear.”

Some of the songs on Ferguson’s playlist included “101 Dalmatians’” “Cruella De Vil,” “Cinderlla’s” “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “The Little Mermaid’s” “Under the Sea”.

Of all the songs performed, Ferguson said “Beauty and the Beast’s” “Be Our Guest” was his favorite to perform.

“The song is extremely difficult to play on the carillon, but it was a challenge that I loved taking on,” Ferguson said.

Jacy Meador, music senior and publicity manager of the Guild of Student Carillonneurs, said Ferguson’s performance went smoothly and was amazing.

“Austin has been practicing hard over the past several weeks to put this concert together,” Meador said. “He managed to cover such a wide range of Disney songs and it was awesome.”

Business sophomore Sarah Taqvi said she wishes the concert took place during the week so more students would have been able to appreciate the change from the usual bell gongs.

“As a huge Disney buff, I was immediately able to detect some of the songs being played, and I didn’t realize until a friend pointed out that I was actually singing along,” Taqvi said. “I know many of my friends would have loved to hear these songs play, so I wish they would happen more frequently throughout the year.” 

Peter Tissot, Austin Ferguson, and Amanda Jensen play a song in the carillon practice room, Friday afternoon. The guild plays a variety of songs from classical pieces to popular hits, and even takes requests.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

With his fists clenched and his wrists light, Austin Ferguson’s hands quickly move across the wooden baton and bangs them to effortlessly create the ringing bells that sound across campus. Simultaneously, his feet play the notes his fists couldn’t reach, creating melodic music in the practice room.

“If you’ve played any other keyboard instrument, it goes against anything you’ve ever been taught,” said Ferguson, a music studies freshman. “But once you master the basics, it becomes a good anger management process and gives you the opportunity to play as loud as you can.”

The carillon is an instrument housed in the UT Tower played by striking the wooden batons with a closed fist and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet. The keys mechanically activate levers and wires that connect to metal clappers that strike the bells, allowing the carillonneur to vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key.

“To me, there’s not a lot that can be grasped theoretically. You just have to do it,” said Amanda Jensen, a music studies, Plan II and Greek senior. “I just love the history behind it. It’s been around for so long in more or less the same form. It’s the musicality behind the carillonneurs that changes.”

Jensen, Peter Tissot and Matthew Stites created the Guild of Student Carillonneurs in April 2010 after taking lessons on the carillon from their teacher’s assistant and realizing it was their duty to carry on the musical legacy of Tom Anderson. Anderson, a carillonneur who plays at the UT Tower three days a week, started in 1952 and has continued for more than 50 years. Each year, the group holds auditions and takes a couple of new students, and after gaining exclusive membership to the guild (currently eight members), the old members teach the new how to play the instrument. This year the guild plays at the Tower every Tuesday at 5 p.m. and also performs statewide.

“We wanted to create a sustainable group that would last for years,” Jensen said. “It just keeps things in perspective. We have to keep alive a tradition for these other students.”

The carillon at UT is the largest in the state with 56 bells, giving the guild members the opportunity to play a wider range of songs, particularly ones in a higher register. However, each carillon is different, forcing the guild members to adjust when playing a different carillon, particularly when it comes to the length of ringing time for each note.

“Even if a piece is supposed to be fast, you have to be selective that each note doesn’t end up sounding like one continuous stream of notes,” Ferguson said. “It takes a lot of getting used to. You could have played a note like five minutes ago and you can still hear it ring.”

Timing is essential when it comes to carillon music. The guild members work to constantly think a couple of notes ahead and always have their fists on notes before they need to be played to ensure there isn’t any additional ringing after each note is played and control the volume of each bell.

“I can’t just strike a note, and it’ll just play properly. There’s a lot of technique involved,” Ferguson said. “Your fist must be loose, and you have to prime each note before you hit it. It’s very unorthodox for beginners.”

In addition to the unconventional technique required, the guild members embrace the unique opportunity to be able to perform atop the Tower. Because they cannot be seen, they focus less on how many people may be watching and instead put more emphasis into how loud and how far away they can be heard.

“It’s the least stressful performance environment,” Ferguson said. “We’re up there in a room as small as a closet, and no one is watching us. We can mess up, and no one would know — it gives us something to laugh about afterwards.”

Although the guild keeps a lighthearted attitude about the carillon, they’re very serious when it comes to practicing their pieces. Ferguson practices about two hours each day, and Jensen also stresses the importance of putting time into enhancing individual musicality.

“We tell them to put in however much time they need to not make a fool of themselves at the top of the Tower,” Jensen said. “We need to keep in mind everyone can hear us when we play.”

Almost any song can be played on the carillon, from classical music, pop hits or requests from loyal listeners, and the guild members try to ensure diversity and hope to keep the tradition of playing the carillon on top of the Tower around forever.

“When you hear a song, it’s a person playing, not a machine. It’s not something randomly put at the top of the Tower,” Jensen said. “It’s the musical sound of the entire university.”

Printed on October 10, 2011: Guild of Student Carillonneurs attempts to keep tradition alive on top of UT tower