St. Olaf’s Memorial Chime Tower featured on MPR’s MN Today

St. Olaf’s Memorial Chime Tower was featured on MPR’s new Minnesota Today service this week in a Minnesota Sounds piece titled Northfield: Memorial wind chimes ring through St. Olaf.

A wooden tower on the quad at St. Olaf College houses 21 sets of wind chimes. Built in 2003, the tower and its chimes memorialize students who have died while attending the college.

The chimes are tuned to D, the key of the hymn "Beautiful Savior." On windy days, the sound of the chimes reaches almost every corner of campus. Pastor Bruce Benson tells the story of the college’s memorial wind chimes and what their sounds signify.

When the sun came out on Tuesday, I took some photos of the Memorial Chime Tower. I tried to capture the sounds but the noise of jets, trains and nearby construction machinery kept interfering.

St. Olaf’s Memorial Chime Tower St. Olaf’s Memorial Chime Tower St. Olaf’s Memorial Chime TowerMac Gimse 
There’s a poem on a placard attached to the tower, written by Mac Gimse, Professor Emeritus of Art. I found the text of it online in his speech for the Delta Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at St. Olaf College on April 21, 2006:


8. I want to share with you the poetry I wrote when I saw and heard the MEMORIAL CHIME TOWER, when was dedicated in September, 2003, after you arrived on campus. There are 118 chimes with names of students who died while attending St. Olaf. I personally knew 32 of them, and in a mystical way, the tower brings them back to campus, at least to my consciousness. I listen to the six notes from BEAUTIFUL SAVIOR and I can see their faces and hear their voices. It’s magical because at first I was moved to tears and later to joy for a sense of their presence here with me again.

a. You will not be given a chime with your name on it when you graduate, even though you may be dying to get out of here. But I assure you that you will be remembered because of the resonance you gave us in and beyond your academic achievements. So you depart with continued affection from your professors and friends.

b. When I sit down under the chimes, I find myself remembering students who are still alive, but are no longer on the hill. They are lingering memories of triumph in the classroom, spiritual awakening, giving time and energy to community activities, and becoming responsible adults in a challenging world. When you return to campus, walk through the chime tower and know you are remembered.

Now I will share the poetry. Please respond on cue with the words  …EVERY LIFE MATTERS.

Come to this peaceful pavilion
to absorb its presence.
Let the warmth of the wood,
the stretch of its beams
and a roof of split-stones
remind you of the dreams you had
when you first arrived at this place,
this vast experiment with living
away from the familiar.

How can this monument draw you
into its tranquil and symbolic center?
When you hear the singing chimes,
let the sounds you remember
of those never-to-be-forgotten,
ring through your quiet recollections.
As you think on separated histories
of spirit-friends, winds of urgency
will carry through these bright(ly) bells
your thanks for long-away joys.

When snow mounds cover benches
and gardens disappear,
how can you attach
your soul in this wintry scape
to those who call briskly
from their lofty chill?
Settle for a moment into the warmth
of your inner hearth
and hum a response to God
and to those above who linger still,
then declare your love
for someone near.

Inside the hollows of our last remorse,
we gather fragrance from flowers
we once sought to inhale
between each new remembering.
Those who have vanished,
but will always be cherished,
are released to fly again
into our consciousness
of what it is we need to know
about life in the future.

We move among our visions of yesterday,
singing through chimes of sadness
and dancing on cords of endless trust,
that will keep us always close
to this towering heartbeat
of chance,
of risk,
of caring.

by Mac Gimse ’58
September, 2003

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