University of Tampa to construct 105-foot-tall bell tower

The magnificent pipe organ in the Sykes Chapel at the University of Tampa is one of Ryan Hebert’s favorite instruments, but he can explain how it works in simple terms. 

"It’s a box of whistles," he said. "You have compressed air, you press a key, air goes through a pipe and makes a sound. It’s been that way for hundreds of years."

Not so simple is a new instrument they’re using: Cranes to build just outside the chapel.

It’s called Ars Sonora. It’s a bell tower that will be 105 feet tall with 63 bells and it's played with a piano-like keyboard. It’s the largest such musical sculpture in the world and not even a music professor knows exactly how it will sound.

"The most important part of the piano and organ are the acoustics," continued Hebert. "Outdoors has no acoustics. Everything is open." 

He’s certain it won’t sound like the famous carillon at Bok Tower where the musician strikes batons with the bottom of a fist. Unlike the bucolic Bok Tower, the bell tower at the University of Tampa will be surrounded by the city. Hebert hopes people will embrace it.

"We’re more than just a sports city," said Hebert. "We’re a city that values the arts. This is sort of the hub of the downtown community. Music matters and the arts matter."

Hebert is also looking forward to playing the instrument along with an outdoor orchestra or a singer. 

"How do you do that? You have bells a hundred feet in the air and a singer with a puny little sound outside."

 It’s a challenge he looks forward to. 

"The first concert will be here at the University of Tampa," he said. "It's a one-of-a-kind instrument and no one will have a duplicate of it."

The Ars Sonora is a gift of the Sykes family. University officials hope it will be constructed and ringing late this year or in early 2022.