In 1952 as a music student, Tom Anderson started playing the UT Tower Kniker Carillon. He continued to play while he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Butler School of Music at The University of Texas at Austin. In 1967 he was invited back as the official “bell ringer” and continued to play for over 60 years.
Until he retired in 2013, Anderson took the Main Building elevator to the 27th floor of the 307-foot Tower, and then climbed the stairs to the keyboard situated just below the belfry.
The Kniker Carillon is the largest in Texas. The Austin American-Statesman describes the carillon as “the Big Bertha of keyboard instruments — large, heavy and loud.”
It requires a whole body performance, and Anderson was a master. He choreographed the keys, pedals, levers and wires as music rang from the 56 bronze bells — ranging from 20 to 7,350 pounds.
Usually, he played three or four numbers between 12:50 and 1 p.m. He was known for being playful with his selections. “ ‘Walking In A Winter Wonderland’ rang from the Tower on smoldering summer days,” recounts The Daily Texan or “Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ hung in the air each year on the first day of finals.”
Anderson said playing gave him “a feeling of being the bell.” He was able to achieve what many strive to do: turn his passion into a life-long career.
Anderson was a creative and talented musician full of spirit. Over the years he has shared his craft with others who continue to keep the music alive. He is a legendary Longhorn, and he will be missed.
There will be a memorial service open to the public at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, at the First Baptist Church, 901 Trinity St.