Revised documentary to be unveiled
This article features an event that occurred in the past.
The installation of David O. Belcher as Western Carolina University chancellor will provide an opportunity for the campus community and people of Western North Carolina to reflect on the university’s tradition of service to the region with the showing of a newly updated and digitized version of the documentary “Bells in the Valley.”
The revised “Bells in the Valley” will be screened in the theater of A.K. Hinds University Center from 3 to 9 p.m. on installation day – Thursday, March 29. The showings, beginning at each half-hour mark, are part of a lineup of “Community on Campus” events that will follow the morning installation ceremony.
The original “Bells” was created on the occasion of WCU’s centennial in 1989, and the documentary was a companion piece for a book, “A Mountain Heritage: The Illustrated History of Western Carolina University,” that came out at the same time. The book’s authors, professors emeriti of history Curtis W. Wood and H. Tyler Blethen, wrote the script for the original “Bells” and updated it for the new version to include the years since 1989.
Wood said the 18-minute documentary, a collection of still photographs and audio voice-overs, and the book were never intended to be “institutional histories” of WCU that listed the accomplishments of each of the university’s presidents or chancellors, but both were meant to be social histories that reflect how life on the Cullowhee campus has evolved through the years. “In writing the new script section, we identified some ways the campus has changed over the past 23 years, with enrollment growth and expansion of the physical campus being two big items, and also the increase in the use of computers in the daily lives of students, faculty and staff, and new developments in residential life,” Wood said.
Blethen said the original “Bells” has been shown to thousands of visitors throughout the years at the Mountain Heritage Center auditorium, and the documentary also has been used during new faculty orientation and shown to some USI 130 (“The University Experience”) classes. The original was too cumbersome to take on the road because it requires a reel-to-reel video player and nine slide projectors to show to audiences, he said. The new version, in the DVD format, will be easily transported and shown.
Anna McFadden, WCU’s director of academic engagement and IT governance, has been coordinating the campus group that has been working on the new “Bells.” In addition to Wood and Blethen, the group includes Arledge Armenaki, associate professor in the School of Stage and Screen, as producer; Jesse Romine, a graduate of WCU’s motion picture and television production program, as video editor; and Bruce Frazier, Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, as musical consultant. Scott Philyaw, director of the Mountain Heritage Center, and his staff have been providing support along with George Frizzell, head of Special Collections, and Jason Brady, library technician in Special Collections.
McFadden said plans are to begin using the documentary more widely on campus and with alumni and potential donors. “The installation of Dr. Belcher provides a good opportunity to remind people of the rich history of the university and the meaning behind the ‘Cullowhee Idea’ – the concept of education serving the needs of the people – and to enhance our sense of place,” she said.
The team working on the project has been attempting to retain as much of the original content and tone as possible, which meant hunting down old photographs to be digitized and trying to identify obscure music used in the original. The spirit and tone of the old “Bells” should be preserved because Gurney Chambers, former dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions, is reprising his role as primary narrator, Wood said. More than two decades after he recorded his part for the original on a reel-to-reel recorder at the Mountain Heritage Center, Chambers visited the network-quality recording studio in WCU’s Center for Applied Technology recently to record his new narration for the updated “Bells.” “Anybody with a connection to Western Carolina loved the original ‘Bells,’ and we hope that tone and ambiance can continue,” Wood said.
In addition to the voice of Chambers, another “voice-over” that will be featured in the updated documentary is that of Robert L. Madison, first principal and president of the little mountain school that became WCU. Madison and WCU’s second president, Alonzo C. Reynolds, were interviewed by another WCU president, W. Ernest Bird, in 1947. Their voices were recorded using a “transcription player,” an early recording device that allowed the home production of crude vinyl discs. Three of the 16-inch diameter discs are now stored in Special Collections at WCU’s Hunter Library. Sometime in the past, the voices on the discs were transferred to reel-to-reel tape, and the voice of Madison speaking about WCU’s formative years was included in the original “Bells.”
Frazier has been working with Clay Miller, a senior in the commercial and electronic music program, to create a digitized version of Madison’s voice from the taped version, and to digitize from tapes and cassettes other voice-overs from the original. “We tuned up an old reel-to-reel deck and digitized the audio into a computer using Pro Tools, a professional software application for recording and editing audio,” Frazier said. “We used other software to analyze the audio and applied filtering, equalization and compression, and adjusted the volumes to match the newly recorded narration.”
Because of that work, individuals who watch the updated “Bells in the Valley” in coming years will be able to hear the voice of Madison speaking about the university’s origins, and they also will hear the voice of Belcher, who visited the CAT Building studio recently to record his comments that tie the university’s present and future aspirations of service to the region with its long track record of upholding the “Cullowhee Idea,” McFadden said.