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The Bells of Berkeley: Campanile DeCal offers accessibility to carillon study

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APRIL 21, 2023

The Campanile has become one of the most iconic visuals of UC Berkeley. The bells at the top of the tower offer music through concerts multiple times a day, and sometimes it is students bringing the carillon to life. 

Outside of classes instructed by Jeff Davis, University Carillonist, the ‘Learn to Play Sather Tower Bells’ DeCal seeks to make learning the instrument accessible to students. 

William Zhang, fourth year computer science student, is completing a minor in music and serves as one of the instructors for the DeCal. In an interview, he stated that those who wish to teach the DeCal must first audition for Davis and then participate in  his private lessons. 

“The students who get private lessons under Jeff help run the DeCal,” he stated. “It’s a very nice way for the people who don’t have the time to commit to playing the bells on a regular schedule like we do, to get involved trying it out for a semester.”

According to Zhang, Davis provides private lessons to four students every year. He remarks that by auditioning for these private lessons students are committing to the program for the rest of their time at Berkeley, as an “investment” of time is put into that student. 

Zhang also emphasized that the goal of the DeCal was to allow any student, no matter their musical background, to develop carillon skills.

“We do not scan for musical talent which makes teaching very interesting. I have a few students who do not read music and it’s not really a problem for the DeCal,” Zhang stated. “This DeCal was meant to give everyone the chance to play this instrument or be a part of Berkeley’s culture.”

Students involved in the class schedule lesson times with the instructors. Each instructor teaches two students at a time as there are two practice rooms within the Campanile. 

The goal is to allow students the opportunity to practice individually all while receiving feedback on their form or how they are playing their piece. Zhang added that while the first song is assigned to each student, and is typically a piece of traditional carillon literature that “everyone can play”, students are allowed to select any song for their final performance at the end of the semester.

“I think that the carillon is such a unique instrument,” Zhang stated. “It’s very nice to be able to extend [this] experience to the DeCal students. I think [no matter]  your musical background it is very learnable. You can pick up the carillon and you can play something very nice even if you have ‘musical talent’.”

University Carillonist Jeff Davis is the Instructor of Record for the DeCal, but also teaches classes within the Music Department for students with higher experience levels. The Music 40 series also teaches students how to play the carillon, however, he remarked in an email that a “solid set of musicianship skills” is required in this course as it covers the advanced carillon literature. 

While Davis is not the primary teacher for this DeCal, he heavily enjoys his interactions and experiences he shares with the students.

“It is my honor to have daily contact with great compositional minds, as well as being immersed in a community of bright, committed, and prepared students,” he stated. 

Contact Lindsay Muangman at 


APRIL 21, 2023