It’s days like yesterday that remind me of how much I love Ithaca. The temperature reached a balmy 55— unheard of for the Ithacan winter (I haven’t confirmed with the groundhog, but surely that’s a good sign…?)— and as I went for a stroll downtown with a friend we saw a local out for a jog with no shoes, and local coffee shop Gimme! was bustling with customers in flip-flops and skirts while a gaggle of less-sullen-than-usual teens loitered by the curb (too nice for even well-intentioned melancholy!).  It’s beginning to feel like Spring, despite the snow on the ground and’s gloomy outlook starting the day after tomorrow (update, since I started this post yesterday: it is now a firm 30 outside and blizzarding. This defines Ithacation.) It’s even starting to smell like spring, which is to me the most important part.  And as evening breaks, much later than in months, I can hear the theme from Beauty and the Beast ringing across campus from the clock tower’s evening concert.

I <3 Ithaca 🙂

Speaking of the chimes…

I have already blogged about one story I tell on my tours concerning the McGraw Clock Tower (the Clock Tower Pumpkin story, “Touring My Tour,” 10/7/10), but I haven’t yet mentioned one of my favorite aspects of the clock tower: the chimes.

[As I tell it on my tours…] One of the most iconic landmarks at Cornell, one that you’ve seen if you’ve looked at almost any of Cornell’s publications or official websites, is the Jennie McGraw Clock Tower. Standing at 173 feet, a trip to the top of the tower offers incredible panoramic views of campus and the greater Ithaca area. If you want to reach the top to take in the view, however, you will have to climb all of the 161 steps as there is no elevator. But it’s worth it, if for no other reason than for the 21 chimes you will find when you get to the top.

Image Credit:

These chimes are played by the Cornell Chimesmasters thrice daily, in 15 minute concerts that are free and open to the public. Chimesmasters are regular members of the Cornell community, students and faculty— there are only two requirements for becoming have one: you must be able to read sheet music, and you must be able to stand on one foot. Playing the large instrument requires the use of both hands and one foot, so balance is key. The training process is rigorous and time-consuming, but by the end the Chimesmasters have a repertoire of more than 2,500 songs, and they also take requests. I’ve heard everything from the Happy Birthday, one of the most-requested songs, to Lady Gaga.

Listen to the chimes play the Cornell Alma Mater

*Random chimes-related trivia: back in the day, Chimesmasters were honored for their essential role in the form of free room and board (and in one instance, gym credit)— I bet their contemporaries were quite put out when they got wind of that particular policy change.

There’s nothing better than hearing “Here Comes the Sun” emanating from the clocktower when it’s been missing for days at a time, or “If I Only Had a Brain” during exam periods, when that isn’t altogether apparent.

cue Beatles
cue Beatles

Check out concert schedules, meet the Chimesmasters, see recent playlists, and more on the web at

6 thoughts on “ithacation”

  1. Oh my gosh, it’s like you knew my secret inner hope! Seriously, no joke! Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to play the chimes in a tower. I always felt like I had to be there. I’m sure your heart swells with pride upon hearing Cornell’s alma mater. However, I should very much like to know if the Chimesmasters’s ears don’t bleed on a regular basis. Are ear-plugs given? You can play them with your bare feet (pic)??

  2. To answer both chimes-related questions:
    1. I recently spoke with a Chimes master who told me that she prefers to play with no shoes, because it makes for easier maneuvering of the feet/isolating individual chimes/notes. I’m not sure about the ear plugs, but I can say that it IS quite loud when you go up to hear the chimes played from the top of the tower.
    2. The original 9 chimes were donated to the University at its inception, and were first played at the opening ceremonies in 1868.
    Thanks for reading!

  3. And all the individual bells were sent off for restoration, which took about a year, in the late ’90s! It was odd to not have them here for almost a year.

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