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The Daily Tar Heel

Meet UNC's master bell ringer, sophomore Madi Marks

As the 2021-22 master bell ringer, Marks joins the ranks of nearly a century of men and women dedicated to the role. However, no women's names grace the walls of the bell tower, where the bell ringer names are supposed to be memorialized. The first female bell ringer was selected in 1953, according to Daily Tar Heel archives. Coincidentally, the names in the bell tower stop in 1953. Today, the General Alumni Association hopes to fill in as many names on the ringer plaques as possible. In addition, Mark said, band director Fuchs has found almost every name not yet listed. Here, Marks poses for a portrait on Oct. 1, 2021, inside the bell tower's clock face.

When UNC’s football team scores a game-winning touchdown, the crowd erupts in cheers, and the band plays as fans start to stream out of Kenan Stadium.

But one Marching Tar Heel heads to another campus monument with a special task — to play UNC-themed songs on the bells of the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower.

On game days, the Marching Tar Heels get their start early. On Oct. 1, 2021, they met at 8 am and perfromed all over campus before their halftime show at 2pm in Kenan Stadium. Marks' day ended a little later than the other band members because of a Carolina tradition---she went to play "Carolina Victory" from the bell tower. "One of the biggest things with marching band this year," Marks said, "is bringing back the sounds of Kenan Stadium, bringing back the sounds of the school." Last year, there was no master bell ringer due to COVID-19.

Sophomore Madi Marks, a music education major, is the latest to hold the title of master bell ringer.

“Being able to be in the Bell Tower and hearing it ring above me as I’m pressing the keys down – I can’t describe the feeling," Marks said. "The first time I did it, I started crying."

The Bell Tower has been a campus landmark since it was completed in 1931. Its chimes can be heard daily.

The bells are largely mechanized. But on game days, Marks said she brings songs like “Hark the Sound” and “Carolina Victory" to life, using a piano keyboard to play the tower's 14 bells. 

Before the keyboard was added, bell ringers pushed individual handles to ring each of the original bells. If a bell rope broke during a performance, bell ringers pulled the bells by hand to finish a piece.

Marks' duties are to play a song pregame and play a song in the case of a Carolina win. You can thank her when your hear UNC's anthems–things like "Hark the Sound," "Carolina Victory," and "Carolina Fight Song." The bell tower can also be set to play any number of songs, from the national anthem to "Greensleeves" to Christmas music. The role is extra special for Marks, however, because her father, seen here at left, also went to UNC some years ago. It makes sense, then, that Marks' favorite song to play is "Hark the Sound."

Today, the requirements to become the master bell ringer are similar. Marks said a bell ringer has to know how to sight read simple sheet music and play those melodies.

Jeffrey Fuchs, director of University Bands, oversees that selection of master bell ringers. 

Marks said that one day while walking to class, Fuchs asked her if she was good with single right-hand melodies. She said yes – and  Fuchs explained that he needed someone to be the master bell ringer.

“My jaw dropped," she said. "’You need what?’”

Fuchs said Marks' integrity, dependability and reliability is without fail.

“I feel like I can trust her to do the right thing at the right time and honor her commitment,” he said. 

Marks said she found her passion for music in middle school, and she began playing the clarinet because her mom thought it looked cool.

She knew she wanted to stick with it after a summer band camp experience that changed her life.

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“I realized I want to pursue something in music because you can never perfect it," she said.

Marks said she joined her high school band, participated in all-district and all-state programs and started her own program teaching piano, clarinet and bass clarinet to other people.

“Everything she does, she does at a very high level and with a pleasant personality," Fuchs said. "She’s always willing to help.”

Sophomore Annie Flanagan plays the trombone and is a Marching Tar Heel with Marks. She said she met Marks last year through classes and because they lived in the same residence hall.

“(Marks) puts in 100 percent effort," Flanagan said. "She’s just such a good representation of school spirit."

Marks said she is grateful for the opportunity to be the University's master bell ringer.

“Being able to add to that school spirit in such a unique and special way is just the best gift I could have ever received," she said.