Roy Lee, JD 2004

By Lucianna Ciccocioppo / Photography By Michelle Yee

From the Fall-Winter 2012 issue of Nexus.

You’ve heard of lawyers who play keyboards, guitars or drums in their ‘wannabe’ rock bands. Meet a lawyer-musician of a different kind: Roy Lee, JD 2004. He plays the carillon in the University of Toronto’s Soldiers’ Tower. That’s the set of 51 bells, spanning four octaves, housed at Canada’s only university with a carillon tower. The litigator for the Department of Justice says it was a stop during a campus clubs fair, while an undergrad at Yale University in 1997, that proved serendipitous.

“I had been moving away from playing piano and organ, and was thinking of doing something else. The carillon club was recruiting new students.” And so he became one of them, taking lessons and soon 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. 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 he 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. He’s currently 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.” He’s keen to help grow a more active training program on campus. Says Lee, with a smile: “I feel like I never really left.”

Watch Roy Lee on YouTube:

If you are interested in supporting the Soldiers’ Tower Carillon, to fund more recitals and bursaries to teach students, please contact: Kathy Parks at, 416-978-3485.