It’s dusk and from the top of the Campanile tower, a marmalade sunset is seen settling on San Francisco’s skyline. Ph.D. candidate Tiffany Ng stretches her arms above her head, shakes out her hands and takes a seat on a wide wooden beach. She centers herself in front of the campus’ 20th century carillon, an instrument that touts 61 bronze bells—some of which traveled from England during the first World War.

“Not a bad view, right?” said Ng, smiling while looking over her shoulder at the Bay sunset. She is petite and small framed but commands the carillon’s double row of wooden batons (carillon’s peg-like keys) and pedal keyboards using both her clenched fists and feet to tap out a melody.

Ng, who is an Associate Carillonist at Berkeley, is filing her dissertation this year. Her dissertation, “The Heritage of the Future: Musical Historicism/Musical Technologies during the Cold War” explores the intersection of the organ, carillon, historical performance practice movement, and audio technology industry from the 1960s-1980s.

“It’s so exciting to play,” said Ng, who frequently plays the carillon inside the Campanile. “Simultaneously, it’s a social experience because I’m playing for many people, but at the same time it’s isolating because I don’t see my audience.”

After attending Yale and Eastman School of Music, Ng came here to pursue her Ph.D. in musicology with a designated emphasis in new media at the Berkeley Center for New Media.

“It’s an amazing experience to be standing under those huge bells while they are played,” said Ng. “It’s a physical dance to play these bells.”

In addition to her studies, she has taught many graduate students — through the Democratic Education at Cal (DeCal) — how to write composition for the carillon. Her current students include Nils Bultmann, Matthew Goodheart, Jen Wang, Andrew V. Ly, Michael Nicholas and Rama Gottfried. At the end of the semester, she and her students have a recital.

Today, as part of celebrating the Campanile’s centennial, Ng will be performing throughout the year.

“She has boundless energy and is active in getting student composers to write for the instrument,” said Jeff Davis, the campus’ official carillonist for the last 31 years. Ng and Davis first met in 2004 and most recently performed together during the university’s kickoff centennial celebration, “Natural Frequencies.”

The performance included three 10-minute live performances, and light installation modulated in real time by data from the UC Berkeley seismometer inside the Hayward Fault. The title refers to the response of structures and systems to external forces.

“What I got from Jeff was attention to the bells, its timbre and playing them very gently to get a beautiful tone out of the bells,” said Ng, who was mentored by Davis for years, until joining the music staff in 2008.

Looking forward, Ng said she hopes to do a carillon professorship and continue touring Europe. One of her favorite times was when she performed in St. Colman’s Cathedral in Ireland. “One of the most enchanting things about being a carillonist is that they give you keys to these old towers,” said Ng, recalling how the Ireland cathedral used a skeleton key that was a foot long.

She also wants to encourage students on campus to take time to listen to the bells.

“It’s an amazing experience to be standing under those huge bells while they are played,” said Ng. “It’s a physical dance to play these bells.”

For more information on the Campanile’s upcoming events, visit #campanile100, which features events, a timeline of the tower’s history and a place for students to share memories, wishes and photos.

On February 4, 2015 — To kick off the University Campanile’s centennial, Tiffany Ng and Jeff Davis performed “Natural Frequencies,” a piece of three 10-minute live performances.


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About Sarah McClure

Sarah McClure is a Master's candidate in the Graduate School of Journalism. She is studying multimedia journalism and covers the environment and Latin America.