lila hammer chimes
Along with the chimes, Hammer plays clarinet in the Manchester Symphony Orchestra.
Photo provided by Anne Gregory

Lila Hammer Reflects on Love of Playing Chimes at MU

Heather Gierke

Lila Hammer is Manchester University’s beloved registrar emerita, but before she worked for Manchester, she was a student who played the chimes daily in the Administration Building’s bell tower.

Graduating in 1979, she studied music education, which allowed her to become the full-time chimer her junior year. “I was the only chimer for that year,” she said. “It was one of my campus jobs when I was a student. Being named as the chimer was a much sought-after position.”

Her love of the Manchester chimes carried well beyond her time as a student. When Hammer returned as registrar, she played for special occasions for about 20 years. “I am so sad to know that the majority of Manchester students haven’t heard the chimes,” she said, “The bells were taken down in August to refurbish and restore them to their beautiful state. I am excited to see them returned, all shiny and new!”

Her love of music didn’t start in college. “I grew up in a musical family,” Hammer said, “My parents did not have formal training, but I grew up surrounded by music and knew I wanted to pursue music in some way.”

She graduated with a music education major, and although Hammer never held a teaching position, she has kept music in her life. “I cannot imagine a life without music,” she said.

In fact, Hammer plays clarinet with the Manchester Symphony Orchestra, taking direction from the very faculty conductors she once reminded to turn in their grades on time. (She reminded all the faculty of this, and rewarded them with handmade shortbread “hammer” cookies.)

For many new students, the old, unoccupied Administration Building may just be a run-down piece of architecture on campus. For alumni, staff and faculty, however, the building holds many cherished memories. The Admin Building, as it’s fondly known, was the main building on campus until 2010. Almost all administrative offices were held there, and nearly all of the faculty offices were housed there too. There was no air conditioning, and the hot water heating system was difficult to regulate, making some rooms more preferable in the winter than others, if occupants could bear the rumbling radiator noises.

Another notable quality is its wooden staircases, the steps now grooved and rather treacherous from all the footsteps that gently wore them down. is an old building with many quirks, but the old admin holds a deep and rich history. Hammer would climb these stairs past the third floor to get to her chime room. She would go to the middle stairwell of the third floor, and from there a locked door that only the chimer had the key to led to a stairwell to a fourth floor, which was only 20 by 20 feet. This room held the chime keyboard.

Yet another stairwell led up to an outside room where the bells were hung. And from there, still another stairwell led up to the roof of the chime tower. “I used to go up there above the trees and look out over the campus and the community,” Hammer said. “It was so beautiful in the fall and winter.”

A search of Manchester’s website will tun up video of Hammer’s final chime concert, performed shortly before the chimes were removed for refurbishing.