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UNC senior Michael Crosa takes pride in controlling the Bell Tower’s traditional tunes

Photo: UNC senior Michael Crosa takes pride in controlling the Bell Tower’s traditional tunes (Claire McNeill)
Michael Crosa, a senior at UNC, is the belltower ringer for the 2011-2012 school year.

Every day, UNC students hear the exhaust of buses, the hubbub of the Pit and the scuff of shoes on bricks.

But there exists one sound more familiar than any other.

UNC’s Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower chimes every 15 minutes and plays songs every few hours.

And every year, one student is honored with the position of master bell ringer — the person in charge of the tower, and one of the only students with a key to its door.

This year’s bell ringer is Michael Crosa, a senior double majoring in psychology and music.

Crosa joined the marching band and Phi Mu Alpha, the men’s music fraternity, his freshman year.

“The guy who was the master bell ringer — actually, the master bell ringer for about the past five or six years — has been in Phi Mu Alpha, so I knew the position, got to know the guy and got to learn the ropes,” he said.

Built in 1931, the tower stretches 172 feet into the sky. Through narrow windows at the top, visitors can see the football field peeking out of Kenan Stadium and the quad stretching out to the North. On a clear day, visibility is 20 miles.

But the perks to Crosa’s job aren’t just the views.

“The best part is having keys to the bell tower,” he said. “Especially when the weather was nice, I’d come up here do some reading, something like that, sit out on the balcony.”

It even serves as his personal movie theater. “The bell tower actually gets pretty decent Internet signal, so I can bring a computer up here,” he said.

“It gets kind of lonely, but every once in a while it’s a good thing.”

The bells run on an automated system except for special events, when Crosa can use prerecorded songs or play manually.

“I come up on special events such as football games, certain memorials and for crazy midnight initiations for some societies,” he said.

Dozens of spiral stairs wind up the bell tower’s hollow and dusty center. It’s filled with just a few scattered chairs, music books and equipment from when bell-ringing was done manually.

The tower’s inside walls are scrawled with signatures. Seniors climb the steps at the end of the year to leave their literal mark on the University.

Crosa was appointed master bell ringer by band director Jeffrey Fuchs.

“But I do look for a student who’s going to take ownership of it and take pride in doing it and who I can trust.”

Though the bell ringer must have a musical background, he or she doesn’t need to have too much keyboard talent, Fuchs said.

“There’s only 11 or 12 bells so it’s not like they have to have massive keyboard chops,” he said.

But Crosa likes to use his musical background to play songs not every one has heard of, but can appreciate.

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“I like playing some of the more obscure school songs,” he said. “Hark the Sound, stuff like that, you hear that a lot, but when there’s Carolina Victory or Here Comes Carolina or something like that, that’s when people are like, ‘What’s that song?’”

Despite some early mornings, Crosa embraces his job.

But he likes to be there to tell visitors about the tower’s history.

“It’s fun, and it’s rewarding because you’re the only person who can do that,” he said.

For more than 80 years, the bell tower’s chimes have been an intrinsic part of student life.

But most students still have no idea who controls those constant chimes. Sophomore Bobby Mook said he has never thought about who rings the bells.

“Hopefully it’s the hunchback,” he said.

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