‘Bells of Iowa State’ Gala Anniversary Concert celebrates history of campus structures

The 50th anniversary of Stephens Auditorium was celebrated with other Iowa State history at the “Bells of Iowa State” Gala Anniversary Concert.

Lydia Wede

On Sunday, faculty, students and alumni came together to celebrate during the “Bells of Iowa State” Gala Anniversary Concert. This event celebrated a wide variety of musical performances while recognizing important anniversaries in history. 

The gala in Stephens Auditorium celebrated the 50th anniversary of the building itself. Clifford Y. Stephens was an Iowa State alumni who was an avid fundraiser of the auditorium. He donated approximately one million dollars toward the cause. Stephens Auditorium was constructed with over 20,000 tons of concrete and features a 125-person orchestra pit with the ability to be raised level with the stage. In comparison, the New York City Metropolitan Opera has a pit for only 80 musicians. Stephens currently has many accolades, included being named the “Building of the Century” by the American Institute of Architects in October 2004 and the “Most Amazing Campus Building in Iowa” by USA Today last March.

Stephens Auditorium first opened in 1969. Its first promotion was a week-long festival comprised of sold-out shows to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. In order to pay homage to this event, the Iowa State Choir Alumni and the Iowa State Symphony Orchestra played the piece “Lacrimosa” from Requiem in D minor, which was also performed at the opening concerts. The Iowa State Choir Alumni is comprised of over 100 returning alumni who participated in an Iowa State choir, with graduates ranging from 1957 to 2019. This choir performed many additional songs, with hauntingly beautiful harmonies and juxtaposed lightness. The dynamic contrasts created a broad sound cushioned with a comforting, warm embrace.

Together, the campanile and the carillon are frequently known as the “Bells of Iowa State.” Today the campanile stands tall with 50,000 bricks and 50 bells.

This year is the 120th anniversary of the Edgar W. And Margaret MacDonald Staton Memorial Carillon, and over time, the memorial has left a lot of history.

The story begins in 1872 when Edgar Stanton graduated with the first class of Iowa State University. He continued to spend around 50 years on campus as a professor, mathematics department head and acting president on four separate occasions. Through his time on campus, Stanton fell in love with his first wife, Margaret MacDonald Stanton, who was the university’s first dean of women.

Upon his wife’s death in 1895, Stanton decided to create a memorial in her name — a bell tower with 10 bells. Stanton collaborated with William Beardshear, who was the university president at the time. Together, they convinced state lawmakers to allocate $7,500 for the campanile and the clock, while Stanton arranged for the bell instillation in 1899. Upon Stanton’s death in 1920, his second wife, Julia Wentch Stanton, used his memorial funds to install a playing console and 26 supplemental bells. 

Eventually, due to the lack of funds and resources, the carillon became neglected and damaged. Then the Stanton Memorial Carillon Foundation (SMCF) was formed. The foundation has raised significant amounts of money to restore and promote the carillon, and has donated the last 14 bells. Currently, the foundation is celebrating its 65th anniversary.

“Campaniling” is a tradition at Iowa State. Many claim that a student is not a true Cyclone until he or she is kissed underneath the campanile as the bells ring the midnight hour. There is an additional part to this legend that states if one of the students is a virgin, a brick will fall out of the campanile and hit them on the head. However, rest assured all bricks are firmly in place and accounted for.

Throughout the long life and legacy of the campanile, many talented performers have sat in the playing console. Iowa State is currently fortunate to have Cownie Professor of Music Tin-Shi Tam as the University Carillonneur. She has performed all over the world, but more importantly, she has called Iowa State home for 25 years. 

Attendants of the Gala Anniversary Concert realized just how lucky they were when they were given a performance that has only happened once before — a duet between the carillon and a symphonic band.

In 2002, Tam performed the premiere of “Star Bells” with the Central Iowa Symphony. “Star Bells” was a piece commissioned by the SMCF just for the event and was composed by former Iowa State faculty member, Jeffrey Prater. On Sunday, however, Tam recreated this event with the Iowa State Symphonic Orchestra. By using advanced audio and visual technology, audience members watched and listened to Tam as she played along with the live ensemble.

Following her performance from Central Campus, Tam traveled to Stephens Auditorium to unveil a project four years and 6,500 emails in the making: the Campanile-Carillon Model Project. This project was due to a collaboration between SMCF, Tam, many different academic colleges, students, faculty and more. The Campanile-Carillon Model is a 1:5 scale model of the current Stanton Memorial Carillon. With 5,000 bricks and 27 bells, it is created as a transportable tool to educate those who cannot visit the full-scale tower due to disability, distance or other factors. 

The model has a working clock and can actually produce music. To demonstrate this, the Iowa State Wind Ensemble accompanied Tam on the model carillon for a performance of the “Iowa State Fights” and the “Bells of Iowa State.” To end the program, the Iowa State Symphonic Orchestra joined Tam for a performance of a newly commissioned piece entitled “Rhapsody on the Bells of Iowa State.”