Wellesley’s Carillon Bells Used as a Tool for Teaching and Learning in Physics

Wellesley students in Galen Stone Tower with carillon bells
Image credit: Elaine Igo
December 5, 2017

Wellesley’s iconic 32-bell carillon is housed in Galen Stone Tower, which rises 182 feet from the ground in Green Hall. Admired—and heard—on Wellesley’s campus since they were installed in 1931, the bells have now been integrated as a learning and teaching tool by Ted Ducas, professor of physics, in his course the Physics of Music and Musical Acoustics.

Ducas said the class has explored the profound connection between physics and music. “The students learn about the mathematics underlying scales and musical structure as well as the physical basis of instrument design, concert hall acoustics, and beyond,” he said.

Using the bells, he explained, students engage in “hands-on exploration of the acoustic characteristics of vibrating systems such as strings, air columns, and solid bars that form the physical basis for most musical instruments—as well as measurements of the acoustic profiles of the instruments themselves.”

On occasion, Ducas has invited members of Wellesley’s musical community to participate in the class. Margaret Angelini ’85, director of the Guild of Carillonneurs, performed on the carillon during a presentation with Benjamin Sunderland, who makes carillon bells at his foundry. “The design, construction, and music all came together in that session,” said Ducas.

Pictured with the bells are Ducas’ students. From left to right: Josey Murray ’19, Paula DeAnda ’21, Rachel Beaton ’21, Sammy Lincroft ’21, Carolyn Shannon ’21, and Whitney Xu ’20.