Tin-Shi Tam

Tam received the distinction of University Professor. It is awarded to faculty members who act as a change agent with significant contributions that improve the university.

    Cownie Professor of Music and university carillonneur Tin-Shi Tam views the carillon as an instrument of the people. The chair of the department's keyboard division climbs the steps of the campanile each weekday for an 11:50 a.m. performance, knowing she is creating lasting memories for students, faculty and staff. When a power plant fire closed most buildings and canceled or moved classes online the first week of the semester, Tam still performed the daily concert in sweltering heat to honor the faculty and staff's efforts.

    Next year, Tam will celebrate her 30th year as ISU's carillonneur, building a legacy of teaching and creating opportunities for others. Inside talked with Tam about the carillon and her determination to share it with as many people as possible.

    The bells and the building are the fruit of creativity, but it is always about the people at Iowa State.

    Tin-Shi Tam, Charles T. and Ivadelle Cobb Cownie Professor of Music

    What was your introduction to the carillon?

    It began for me like a lot of Iowa State students. I was walking across campus at the University of Michigan where I did my graduate studies, I saw an announcement of a carillon concert and I asked a professor 'what is a carillon?' I was a music major but I had never heard of a carillon before. I never thought I would be a carillonneur as a profession because there are not many of them.

    When I came to Iowa State, I learned about the tradition, history and how people love the instrument. It helped me understand the love of the bells. It helped me understand the love between the campanile, carillon and campus.

    Why is teaching others to play the carillon so important to you?

    Playing is the direct interaction with everyone on campus. I want to make sure people love this instrument, and for that, the player needs to play well. It is a public instrument and no matter how you did up there, everyone knows, there is no hiding. I want to make sure people fall in love with the bells. So that's why we practice and our performance skills are as high as they can be.

    What's the intent behind special events such as the carillon festival or summer concert series?

    The first festival (1995) was during my first spring at Iowa State. It was a way to involve the community and students beyond the traditional weekday carillon concerts. We also invite guest carillonneurs to come and play during the summers, and that gives us an opportunity to showcase some diversity. We keep a written record of carillon activities because it is important that we can pass on the tradition to the next generation and ensure what we are doing is worthy to put into the history book.

    A music performance not only includes performers but also musical compositions. I am a performer but without great compositions it is not the same. The carillon does not have a lot of music that was written specifically for it. The ISU carillon composition competition encourages young composers to write music for the carillon, and the competition receives submissions from all over the world.

    How has the scaled model campanile and carillon broadened its impact?

    There are three main goals behind the model. First, we wanted something that is accessible to everyone from a toddler to a senior citizen. We wanted to be able to show how a carillon works, how the bells make the beautiful music. Second, it is a musical instrument and not just a model without a voice. The 27 bells were cast the same way as our Stanton carillon. Finally, we wanted something mobile. The model is important, but it is not a replacement of our beloved campanile and carillon. It is an outreach educational tool. It allows us to travel and show everyone how creative and innovative Iowa State is. So many students, faculty and staff helped in this project that it truly is a labor of love.

    What does the campanile and carillon represent to you?

    Keep the bells ringing is the tradition. I am the keeper of what was passed on to me and I will pass it on to the next generation. It is always about the people. The bells and the building are the fruit of creativity, but it is always about the people at Iowa State.

    To be the university that creates opportunities and forges new frontiers

    Five aspirational statements guide the work of Iowa State's 2022-31 strategic plan.