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The man behind the bells: Dr. Richard Shadinger to retire after 44 years at Belmont

Whether it’s signaling the passage of time, ringing out Christmas carols or even themes from Star Wars, the sound of Belmont’s carillon has become as identifiable as the tower that houses it.

However, not many students know the man behind the bells, Dr. Richard Shadinger.

“People know there is someone up there playing the bells, but they don’t know who it is,” he said.

After 44 years of teaching, Shadinger will soon be retiring.

Dr. Richard Shadinger

“It is going to be a little odd not to be in the classroom every day. I just really enjoy doing that. It is wonderful to be able to do things you like to do. It is fun to teach, especially here at Belmont.”

Shadinger has been a professor of music history at Belmont since 1974. He started playing the 43-bell carillon in the Bell Tower since Belmont acquired it in 1986. Over the years he has grown to love it.

“You get to be here on your own, up in the clouds,” he said.

Shadinger’s admiration for the iconic Bell Tower comes from more than just the bells.

Constructed in 1853, the tower is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as one of the oldest standing structures in Nashville. During the Civil War, it served as the headquarters of the Union Army, who used it as both a lookout and a means to signal soldiers.

“Imagine looking out and seeing 30,000 Union troops,” Shadinger said, looking out across the campus.

His love for the carillon has grown so much that during retirement, Shadinger plans on stopping by campus a couple days each week to play it.

“I’ll be back for special events,” Shadinger said. “I won’t be here as often as I am now because I’m here almost every day. But maybe a couple times a week.”

The carillonneur also already knows how he’ll spend his retirement days.

“I’m going to be doing some writing, and I have several grandchildren, so I will have more time to spend with them,” Shadinger said.

Of his four grandchildren, two of them have gone up into the tower to see the bells their grandpa has lovingly played for over three decades.

One of them in particular already has a knack for it.

“One of my grandsons is learning piano and immediately started picking out tunes. He could make the sounds he wanted for the melodies he already knew.”

On Sunday at 4 p.m., Shadinger will play some of his favorite tunes. He does not see this as his last concert, but knows that day will come.

“There will be nostalgia. Every time you do something for the last time that you enjoy doing, it is sad.”

But for now, Shadinger is spending his last year at Belmont as he always has: playing the carillon he loves so much.

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