SENIOR POWER… “plum silly”

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday March 23, 2012 - 12:55:00 PM

In 1976 Margaret Elliot Murdock was interviewed about her father and her San Francisco and UC, B early days. I gleaned herstory from her responses. Part 1 was mainly about her San Francisco childhood. Part 2 (last week’s column) took her to Berkeley and the University, and this week, Part 3 to the Sather Tower bells. 

Part 3  

People studying in the library didn’t like to be interrupted. Well, I suppose the bells have wanted to please their public and if the public doesn’t comment they don’t know how many people don’t like being interrupted. 

Somebody said they would like to have Icelandic music because Iceland got its independence from Denmark in the 900s. So a little Icelandic girl brought a book of Icelandic music and I started copying it. I found that I was copying something that sounded familiar and discovered it was The Last Rose of Summer. As with other folk books, they add other music to it after they’ve finished their native pieces. When I lived at the Women’s Faculty Club, two of the physical education people went abroad for meetings and Miss Marshall brought me Swedish folk music and Miss Czarnowski brought me Norwegian.  

[A student] thought it a bright idea to play on Easter morning, not knowing that we had done it for years in connection with the Berkeley Council of Churches. They’d write in that they were having an Easter service at Cragmont and would we wake up the populace at 6:30 and then be around, after playing half an hour, till they closed the services about 8:00, and play again. So, many early morning Easters I’d go up into the tower because that was one that the chimes master was always willing to turn over to an assistant. It was all right with me because I liked the hymns. I was playing vigorously at about quarter of seven one morning and the phone rang. A very sleepy voice said, When do those damn bells stop. I was sure it was some one at the [Men’s] Faculty Club who couldn’t like being disturbed.  

The music department has never thought much of the bells. A few of the people composed for it but I don’t think they ever took much interest in the tower. I think that if they’ve been in England they have a sentimental feeling about change music and probably they think that bells are not appropriate for other than change music, which is true of the British bells in general.  

There were several faculty people who composed. Sir Arthur Bliss was more interested in the bells than other staff members. He was a visiting professor one year and had his graduate students compose for the bells. Roger Nixon and several others were in that class. So we have a little collection of Roger Nixon, Margaret Bean, and Leon Kirchner, who later taught at Mills, and several of Professor Bliss’s students. 

It’s easy enough from the mathematical scheme just to change it into the sort of music that we’re more accustomed to read. You could perfectly well do it from running down or up the scale but it’s easier, I think, from the way we usually ring to have it in notation rather than numbers. I don’t think of myself as a composer.  

One evening four people, two couples, came up. I thought they must be Scandinavian so in the elevator I said, What would you like? Norwegian or Danish or Swedish? They wanted Finnish. Luckily I had some. The two men went outside because one of them wanted to show his friend the women’s gym, where he had worked for years. The two wives stayed inside and sang every song, which was a help because I didn’t know the tempo. With their assistance, I knew which was a lullaby or a march.  

We played for Charter Day and Commencement and for Baccalaureate. One of the occasions I especially remember is when the United Nations delegates had a special meeting in the Greek Theater. I remember we were ready to play something for each delegate. Most of them were there, except Russia. 

You played before the Baccalaureate exercises in the glade and then a recessional. You’d wait between and hope for a signal that you could recognize, It was always hard to catch the signal. In the early days, somebody was supposed to wave a handkerchief, but some people left early so you couldn’t always tell. Eventually they had the telephone signal from the Greek Theater or the stadium but, it was sometimes just by guess as to whether they were really through. 

If we followed student requests we might be playing Happy Birthday every day, so we would save it for the University birthday and make it traditional. When the new president was to be inaugurated, we tried to play his college song. I remember hunting up Swarthmore. I discovered it was the same old favorite that they have at Cornell and Missouri. Kind of a typical university hymn. I remember having quite a hunt for the Ecuadorian national hymn because it wasn’t available in any books. Luckily, right there in the tower there was a little book of bugle calls for a marine band, and there was the national anthem for Ecuador and one which, surprisingly enough, was in our range. For quite a while I used to serenade one of the professors who was British and had an eight o clock. He loved to hear the good, old English marching songs and such. So, I’d serenade him, knowing that he was walking down to the campus. 

Of course when the Berkeley Fire came they tried to summon the students. 

We didn’t have the bells every Friday in the good old days, but we did have them on Saturday night if the team won, and on the days for meetings or rallies. [The first time the bells were played, in 1917, was for the Stanford-UC game] 

When we could participate in University memorial services or other occasions, we did. Mr. Noyse and I had a lot of fun at the end of World War II, when we celebrated the armistice. Those were the days when we were the only two ringers and we took turns for a couple of hours, playing everything that we could find that seemed to be patriotic or gave us a chance to exercise our own pleasure at the armistice. 

One morning I played a group of Italian folk songs. When I got to the foot of the tower, there was a freshman with his paper bag of lunch and flashing dark eyes. You played the Fascisti Hymn. I was summoned to the president’s office as to how I could have done anything so unpatriotic. Where did I get the book? Well, at the Co-op student store, in a little book that was done for language classes.  

The current generation of students doesn’t know Danny Deever from Yankee Doodle; I think it’s only the faculty and some alumni who really get the proper trembling sensation when they hear Danny Deever, one of Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads and very gloomy about hanging Danny Deever in the morning. At that time, it was done by some of the singers you heard in concert and the people recognized it.  


I remember that incident [about the union strike] when the gardeners and other employees on campus were on strike. It was shortly after the movie Snow White so that you could play Hi, Ho, Off to Work We Go and Work, For the Night is Coming, and other things that seemed appropriate for non-strikers. They didn’t take it too seriously. 

They were tuning them and wanted me to test the tension. I started the Doxology and somebody phoned the president’s office and said, Did the legislature pass the budget? 

The louder you play, the louder children scream. As the sound increases their own sound volume and it can be a little noisy, outside and in, but they like hearing Three Blind Mice and such little ditties. A little boy stuck his head out and his ears caught. [The glass was put up in ‘61, after a suicide.] I think it’s changed the sound a bit in some ways. But it certainly was a necessary protection. 

One of our Hindu students wanted some Indian music. We didn’t have any at that time so I said, Bring us what you’d like to hear. She got her friend to copy down things that she sang. We played them quite often and then I thought that we had overdone it and set them aside for a year or so. But one night I didn’t know what to play and got out my Indian music, just for my own enjoyment. When I got to the foot of the tower there was a breathless Hindu young man. He’d run all the way down from International House when he heard and he said, all out of breath, I knew every number, in his very British voice.  

[A full carillon] would be nice, but I think we could get along perfectly well with a set of bells. I think sometimes a carillon encourages you to be too ambitious and it wouldn’t fit too well with the campus repertoire to try to do all of those elaborate things that they can do at the Bok Tower. I suppose any traditionalists have a sentiment for the way they have been operated, and with a fair degree of success. I think it’s surprising how many tunes we can play with our twelve bells. 

[Herb Caen wrote to and about her. Interviewer: In recent years the great amount of publicity given you has been notable…] 

I think that’s plum silly, but I suppose the first fifty years they take for granted and after that they’re a little surprised that anybody has the health and energy. A lot of people think it’s mechanical, that there isn’t anybody there. That’s the only heart-warming part of this publicity, to hear from former students who got teaching credentials, or people who just get interested in the bells, or remember that they heard them when they were getting married, and on a honeymoon. My latest from Texas-- this woman wrote that she and several other Navy wives came out to bid farewell to their husbands who were going overseas, and came over to Berkeley and were sitting on the campus… That was an occasion in which they took it very personally.  

[Fifty years on campus] It’s been a real privilege. I think that most of us who have done it would be happy to do it just for the fun of it rather than counting it as a University job. This letter came from somebody who worked over at the nursery school. She remembers: One of the little children who was a very alert small boy, somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a half years old, whose father delivered him each morning at nine and collected him a very few minutes after twelve noon while the chimes were playing. Very soon the child recognized the playing of the chimes as the signal that his father would be arriving. He always stopped whatever he was doing and got by the gate, ready for his dad. One morning, very soon after his arrival, the chimes began to peel out in a most joyful manner. The small boy recognized the signal for his father’s arrival and got to the gate. The playing went on and on, and we were powerless to explain to him what had happened.  

It reminds me a little of the time when the Prytaneans [Women’s Honor Society, the oldest collegiate women's honor society in the United States, founded in Berkeley in 1900] were having an initiation in Stephens Union. We always played for them at six o clock their hymn and that time, quite obviously they were going to get through before six. So, one of the members was stationed at the window to wave to me when it was time to do the hymn. I did it at about quarter to six and all the men over at the Faculty Club dropped their billiard cues, or their cards, and stormed the dining room fifteen minutes before the doors opened. So, it was like the little boy, somewhat.  

Whether they like it or not, there they are. Some of them very much take it for granted and others, I think, really do stop to listen and wonder. 


The final time I saw Margaret was in Lucky’s supermarket parking lot (where the North Berkeley CVS is presently located), small and frail but still perky as she managed her grocery cart and bundles. Later, I heard that she had had pneumonia. 

The regular Sather Tower Carillon performance schedule during Fall and Spring semesters: Sunday 2:00 - 2:45 P.M. Monday through Friday 7:50 - 8:00 A.M. 12:00 noon - 12:10 P.M., 6:00 - 6:10 P. M. Saturday 12:00 noon - 12:15 P.M., 6:00 - 6:10 P.M.  



March 19, 2012 New York Times included an article on the large gender gap between men and women on the cost of health insurance. The gap exists in most states. In 2014, gender rating will be prohibited through provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA.) According to recent research from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC,) a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in Chicago per month charges for a woman are 31% more than what men the same age pay for the same coverage. 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred.  

Friday, March 23. 12:15-1 P.M. Bustan Quartet. Free Noon Concert Series. Lecture/demonstration: Co-sponsored event: Highlights: Hertz Concert Hall. Visiting Israeli group demonstrates their work in crafting new means of musical expression from diverse resources. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864.  

Saturday, March 24. Berkeley Public Library North Branch final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park. See April 7. 

Monday, March 26. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Book Club.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181. 

Tuesday, March 27. 3 – 4 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St.,  

Tea and Cookies at the Library. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, March 28-April 1. ASA Aging in America Conference, Washington, DC. 15% off registration fees through March 21. Use discount code DCNCoa15 when you register. You also can save by signing up to volunteer at the conference. Go to NCOA website. 

Wednesday, March 28. 1:30 - 2:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group: Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. 510- 526-3720. 

 Wednesday, March 28.  1:30 P.M.  Berkeley East Bay Gray Panthers.  North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, corner MLK.  Free.  510-548-9696. 
Wednesday, March 28. 2-3 P.M. Moraga Library. 1500 St. Mary’s Road. Join a Berkeley Rep Theatre-trained docent to talk about the latest production, John Logan's Tony Award-winning two-character bio-drama about abstract impressionist, Mark Rothko, that's been called a "master class of questions and answers." Free. 925-376-6852. 925- 254-2184 

Monday, April 2. 6:30 P.M. Castoffs knitting group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. An evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043.  

Wednesday, April 4. 10 A.M. – Noon. North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council. 1901 Hearst. Be sure to confirm. 510-981-5190  

Wednesday, April 4. 12:15-1 P.M. Noon concert, UC,B Music Department. Hertz Concert Hall. Faculty Recital featuring new pieces by Berkeley composer and pianist Cindy Cox, with violinist Hrabba Atladottir, pianist Karen Rosenak, and the Alexander String Quartet. Free. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, April 4. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney. Advance registration is required. Sign up in person at the Reference desk, Albany Branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. . Or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours.  

Wednesday, April 4. 6:30-8 P.M. Albany Branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Poetry Writing Workshop with Christina Hutchins, Albany poet and author of The Stranger Dissolves, facilitates this writing workshop. Free. No registration required. Drop in and work on your poetry with a group of supportive writers. Contact: Dan Hess(510) 526-3720 x17 

Saturday, April 7. 1 – 5 P.M. Berkeley Public Library North Branch, 1170 The Alameda at Hopkins. Grand Reopening Event. A ribbon cutting ceremony is planned with local and state officials, music and refreshments will be provided. Everyone is invited. Library services will begin at 2 p.m. (The final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park will be Saturday, March 24, 2012.) Details at

Monday, April 9. 11:30 – 1:30 A.M. Older Adult Passover Seder. Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, Berkeley Branch 1414 Walnut Street. Kosher meal will include chicken and matzo ball soup, gefilte fish with horseradish sauce, fresh green salad w/ hard boiled eggs, roasted chicken, matzh kugel, and wine. The Seder will be led by Ron Feldman. $10 JCC East Bay Member. $13 Non-Member. RSVP by March 29. Contact: Front DeskPhone: 510-848-0237. Email: 

Tuesday, April 10. 7-9 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Poetry Night. Featured Poet is Barry Goldensohn. Followed by Open Mic. Contact: Dan Hess 

Wednesday, April 11. 12:15-1 P.M. Noon concert. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. New Music by UC Berkeley graduate student composers, featuring Eco Ensemble, our resident professional new music ensemble directed by David Milnes. Lily Chen: Soundscape for violin, percussion, and piano. Andrés Cremisini: (control) for violin, cello, and snare drum. Ilya Y. Rostovtsev: Understatements for stereo fixed media.Tickets not required. Event Contact 510-642-4864 

Thursday, April 12. 7:00 P.M. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Avenue. Folk singer Tim Holt performs and discusses our heritage of traditional songs and sea chanteys. Sponsored by the Friends of the El Cerrito Library. 510-526-7512. 

Friday, April 13. 12:15-1 P.M. UCB Music Dept. Noon concert. Department of Music students perform chamber music. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864 

Saturday, April 14. 2-3 P.M. Be an expert: Genealogy. Berkeley Public Library Central, 2090 Kittredge. Free introduction to online genealogy tools and, a database that offers searchable census tracts, immigration records, photos and more. In the Electronic Classroom. 510-981-6100 

Monday, April 16. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker's Forum: Richard Schwartz discusses "The Amazing Volunteer Relief Effort in the East Bay After the 1906 Earthquake." Go to for more information. The forum is co-sponsored by the Albany YMCA and the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av..
Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16. 

Tuesday, April 17. 6:30 P.M. Oakland Public Library, Rockridge Branch, 5366 College Ave.. Vegan Outreach presents Jack Norris, author of Vegan for Life, speaking about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. This program is part of Oakland Veg Week, April 15-21. Linda Jolivet 510/597-5017  

Wednesday, April 18. 12:15-1 P.M. Noon concert: Highlights: Music Dept. event. Hertz Concert Hall. Songs of Persephone. Soprano Alana Mailes performs 17th-century Italian and French opera arias and cantatas by Caccini, Peri, Monteverdi, Rossi, Lully, Charpentier. Tickets not required. Event Contact 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, April 18. 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging. South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street. 510-981-5178 Be sure to confirm. 

Wednesday, April 18. 7-8 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Adult Evening Book Group: Nadifa Mohamed's Black Mamba Boy. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16  

Saturday April 21. 1-5 P.M. Oakland Public Library Rockridge Branch, 5366 College Ave.. California Writers' Club, a workshop open to all writers. Contact: Anne Fox 510-420-8775. 

Tuesday, April 24. 3-4 P.M. Berkeley Public Library Central, 2090 Kittredge. Tea and Cookies at the Library. A free monthly book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100 See also May 22. 

Wednesday, April 25. 1:20-2:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group: William Butler Yeats’ poem, Lapis Luzuli. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16 

Wednesday, April 25. 12:15-1 P.M. UC,B Music Dept. Gamelan Music of Java and Bali is performed by classes directed by Midiyanto and I Dewa Putu Berata with Ben Brinner and Lisa Gold. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, May 2. 12:15-1 P.M. UC,B Music Dept.: Renaissance Music, A Cappella. PERFECT FIFTH, Mark Sumner, director, is an a cappella choir in UC Choral Ensembles specializing in medieval and Renaissance music—sacred and secular, as well as contemporary art music. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864 

Monday, May 7. 6:30 P.M. Castoffs knitting group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. An evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043.  

Thursday, May 10. 7-8:45 P.M. Cafe Literario at West Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University Ave. Facilitated Spanish language book discussion. May title: La Casa de Dostoievsky by Jorge Edwards. Free. 510-981-6270 

Sunday, May 13. | 12-4:30 P.M. Hertz Concert Hall. Music Commencement Ceremony: Concert and Ceremony. Afternoon concert. Sponsor: Department of Music. Noon-1 P.M.: Concert featuring award winners in the performing arts; 1:30 - 2:45pm: Commencement ceremony. Open to all audiences. Event Contact:, 510-642-4864 

Monday, May 14. 7:00 P.M. Identity Theft Program. Barbara Jue, an Associate with Legal Shield, will offer information and advice on how to prevent Identity theft and how to deal with it if it should happen. She will also talk about children and computer use and cyber bullying. A DVD will be shown; Q&A will follow. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Monday May 21. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club: Color of the Sea by John Hamamura. 61 Arlington Av. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Tuesday, May 22. 3 – 4 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. Tea and Cookies at the Library. A free monthly book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100. 

Monday, June 4. 6:30 P.M. "Castoffs" - Knitting Group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. An evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Monday, June 18. 7 P.M. Art historian Michael Stehr will discuss Gian Lorenz Bernini, who was the Michelangelo of the Baroque. He will also present a slide show. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Monday June 25. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club: The Chosen by Chaim Potok. 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043.