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Inside one of Cornell’s most competitive music tryouts

For well over a hundred years, McGraw Tower’s 21 bells have set the mood for an entire campus and town, performing everything from the iconic “Alma Mater” on fall evenings to elaborate renditions of the Grateful Dead.

But 161 steps above Ho Plaza, it is easy to take for granted the source of the thrice daily, boisterous melody.

According to Sonya Chyu ’19, a current member of Cornell Chimes, some students believe that the quintessential clock tower concerts are automated.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the chimes are played by actual, fellow students,” she said. “Some people think the chimes are just played by a computer.”

Not only are the chimes not automated, but earning the right to serenade a campus of almost 15,000 people is not easy. Students who are tasked with playing the chimes, called “chimesmasters,” are chosen in an annual competition that runs from February to April.

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