PULLMAN – Bryan Hall stands as the symbol of Washington State University, a landmark seen from almost every vantage point in Pullman. While massive and towering, it is perhaps what’s far below, in the depths of the building, that many will recognize: the music.
A room in Bryan no bigger than a closet houses wires, amplifiers, CD players and a lone two-octave keyboard that plays electric chimes. Elizabeth Gabe sat there every day after work for many years, playing music specially written – often at her own accord – for the small board.
“There wasn’t any music that I could find for the bells that we had because it’s only two octaves,” she said. “You have to have music that will fit in those two octaves, so that’s why some of the music had to be transposed.”
Gabe came to Pullman in 1947 from Washington, D.C., when a former boss, a lieutenant during World War II, asked if she wanted to work for him here. Gabe said moving to Pullman was a great opportunity, not just for a job, but also to see the country.
She said playing the bells five days a week was a privilege. She’d play for special events and take pride that her music was heard across the four hills of Pullman.
Years after retiring, Gabe wanted to find someone to again play the two-octave keys. She happened across Carol Sayles-Rydbom in downtown Pullman. They previously knew each other because Sayles-Rydbom had taken piano lessons with Gabe’s daughter. When Sayles-Rydbom heard about the need for a new clock tower player, she jumped at the chance to learn.
Fast forward to last fall. Sayles-Rydbom said the first time she and Gabe played a test run, they broadcast the bells across campus, which in turn caused quite a bit of excitement on campus.
“So many people started coming into the door and knocking – ‘Oh! these haven’t been played in a couple of years.’”
While preparing for a final performance, Gabe and Sayles-Rydbom took turns on the small keyboard, talking each other through the ins and outs of the machine – and having the time of their lives.