Published: October 10, 2022
One-of-a-Kind Musical Sculpture Debuted at Saturday Concert
The Ars Sonora, the University of Tampa’s one-of-a-kind musical sculpture, was played for the first time in public on Saturday, Oct. 8, with its 61 working bells being played on a piano keyboard in time with vocalists and the UT brass quartet.
The repertoire for the opening concert ranged from American standards (“Summertime” and “America the Beautiful”) to inspirational songs (“You Raise Me Up” and “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”) Also included was an original composition by UT professor Alex Ehredt, along with the UT alma mater and the National Anthem.
Throughout the night, there was a common theme of appreciation.
UT President Ronald Vaughn and First Lady Renee Vaughn unveiled a plaque at the new Sykes Plaza to show appreciation for longtime UT supporters Susan and John Sykes, who made the sculpture possible.
And several speakers noted appreciation for the Paccard Bell Foundry, the French company that created the sculpture and the Ars Sonora technology, and for UT’s music department, which is bringing the Ars Sonora to life.
“What you have done for our community - it really is remarkable,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor ’81, speaking to Susan and John Sykes in the audience before the musical program began. “I am so thankful and so honored to call you my friends, and to see so many individuals here who have made The University of Tampa the crown jewel not only of the city of Tampa, but of this entire region.”
The concert was the culmination of years of planning, dating back to when John Sykes told Vaughn in a 1997 Sykes Chapel planning session that “I’d love to have some bells with it.”
As a musician plays each of the Ars Sonora’s 61 notes on a keyboard, a signal is sent to ring the corresponding bell. The sophistication of the system gives the keyboardist the ability to play fast vs. slow or soft vs. loud. UT’s Ars Sonora is the largest and most sophisticated bell tower of its type in the world, using technology perfected over the past few years by the Paccard Bell Foundry, a family company that has been manufacturing bells in Annecy, France, since 1796.
The opening concert didn’t disappoint, with more than 200 attendees sitting in rapt attention as the program built up to a rousing finish with “America the Beautiful.”
Saturday’s event was for the UT community and guests, and Joshua Cessna, the University’s new Ars Sonorist, is now working with the music department to plan concerts both for UT and for the public in coming months.
Concerts won’t be the only time the bells are played, though. Cessna plans to play the instrument live on a regular basis, and will be recording songs to be played by the Ars Sonora during the week. But unlike other bell towers, where a recording simply comes out of speakers, the Ars Sonora’s technology allows Cessna to record digitally in a way that will play the bells without him at the keyboard, a bit like a player piano.
For more on the sculpture, visit ut.edu/arssonora.