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Litigator and carillonneur: alumnus Roy Lee

In his spare time, litigator and alumnus Roy Lee plays the carillon at U of T (photo by Michelle Yee)

You’ve heard of lawyers who play keyboards, guitars or drums in rock bands. Meet a lawyer-musician of a different kind: alumnus Roy Lee.

Lee, who graduated from the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law in 2004, plays the carillon at U of T — the only university in Canada with a carillon tower. The set of 51 bells, spanning four octaves, is housed in Soldier's Tower.

Lee, a litigator for the Department of Justice, says a stop during a campus clubs fair while an undergrad at Yale University in 1997 proved serendipitous.

“I had been moving away from playing piano and organ, and was thinking of doing something else," Lee says. "The carillon club was recruiting new students.”

Lee took lessons and soon found himself playing recitals weekly.

“It’s the performance aspect about playing the carillon that I like the most. And almost everything we do is about performance.”

Indeed, you can’t practice playing some four-ton bells without others hearing you. And how they’re hearing them is a concern as well.

“You’re constantly thinking about what sounds good on the ground, and balancing sounds between the notes," Lee says. "From the playing console inside the tower, I can barely hear the little bells at the top of the carillon but people 200 feet way will perceive the balance differently.”

His dedication led to professional certification with the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, and Lee continued to play even after commencing law school at the University of Toronto. It was September 2001.

“I called the U of T president’s office, after 9/11, to offer to play the carillon before the memorial service the university was planning.” His offer was accepted, and he’s been playing at this university ever since for Convocations, for special events such as World Aids Day, and in a special recital to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee last September.

Today, Lee is also teaching five students.

“That’s a pretty good number. It’s not a dying art. In fact, it’s growing around the world,” says Lee. “The carillon adds a lot to campus life. Historically, bells were the centre of town life, and a part of religious and university communities.”

Lee is keen to help foster a more active training program on campus. Says Lee, with a smile: “I feel like I never really left.”