After half a century and approximately more than 15,000 performances, the man behind the Chapel bells' well-known toll—J. Samuel Hammond—will step down as the university carillonneur at the end of December. 

Hammond, Trinity '68 and Divinity School '96,  first became the chapel carillonneur in 1968, then was promoted to university carillonneur in 1986 and has served the campus for 53 years, according to a Duke Today release. He first played the carillon as a first-year in 1964 and has since played the instrument on average 300 times per year. 

Hammond said as a first-year, he met the student carillonneur at the time, John Simpson, when they studied organ together. 

"John invited me to see the carillon (of which I knew nothing), and in response to my intrigued interest in such an unusual instrument and in a potential opportunity of being of service to the university, kindly provided me beginning instruction and, ultimately, opportunity to play,” Hammond said in the release. 

He plays the mechanical, 50-bell carillon for about 15 minutes every weekday at 5:00 p.m. and before and after Sunday worship services and special events. According to Duke Today, the heaviest of the bells weighs five tons and lightest weighs ten pounds.

During his time at Duke, Hammond also earned master’s degrees in theological studies and library sciences and worked for 41 years as a music librarian. 

According to Duke alumnus Bob Williams who recently penned a guest column about Hammond in The Chronicle, the carillon was a gift by George Allen and William Perkins. To play the hefty bells, Hammond strikes the levers with closed fists. 

Hammond was the second person in the University’s history to be named the university carillonneur, Williams said. 

Williams, who visited Hammond in the bell tower and watched him play, wrote that Hammond's “elfish” demeanor changed once he stirred the instrument into action. 

“His facial features change and his body seems to become part of the instrument,” Williams wrote. “He morphs into a rhythmical artist, hands and feet moving in a directorial ballet, commanding the bells to his purpose. It is an impressive, hypnotic scene to behold.”

In the wake of Hammond’s retirement, the release said that the bells will be played on interim basis by two University musicians—Paul Bumbalough, senior advisor with Duke Visa Services who already frequently plays Duke’s carillon, and Joseph Fala, organ scholar in the Chapel.