The only musical elevator on campus

Unravelling the mystery of Old Teachers’ College’s transportational tempo.

Art by Shania O'Brien

Traversing campus can be a tiring task. From pacing down hallways to jogging up steps, opening and closing those heavy classroom doors — it’s enough to run down even the most athletic academics. It was this exhaustion that led me to the shiny, silver doors of the Old Teachers’ College elevator. 

At the western end of the building, these elevators go mostly unused, gathering dust and growing lonely. And that is a crying shame, for when I stepped through those doors and into the elevator carriage, an enchanting melody washed over me. The elevator was playing music. I rode it for a solid 25 minutes, going between floors just so I could hear another note of its score. 

Halfway through, I invited a friend to join me. Not simply to enjoy the majesty of music with a companion, but to make sure it was real. And after countless trips, I had made multiple recordings, analysed each and every note, and, most importantly, verified that I wasn’t experiencing a vivid auditory hallucination. I’d struck music!

But where there is one elevator with music, there are potentially many. So, with my mission established, I laced up my walking shoes, refilled my water bottle, and set out to survey every elevator on the Camperdown Campus.

USyd hosts elevators from five manufacturers: Schindler, Kone, Otis, Sjec, and ThyssenKrupp (TK Elevators). But the brand is not the true mark of an elevator. After riding elevators in three dozen buildings, what you get is genuinely up to chance. 

The inside of the RC Mills elevator is clad with a sort of marbled vinyl wood, giving you the impression that you’re anywhere but the RC Mills building. The Charles Perkins Centre goes in a completely different direction, hosting an elevator made almost entirely of glass. The complex mechanisms and processes are on full display, revealing the secret inner workings of this engineering marvel. 

Not all the elevators are equally uplifting, though. The RMC Gunn building clearly states that its elevators should not be used after hours, as the emergency help button doesn’t work. Sadly, my schedule had me riding this elevator after hours and I was, therefore, beyond assistance. It proved to be sound advice as the elevator stuttered and dragged between floors, ejecting me on Level Three with the frame out of alignment with the floor. Unsurprisingly, I took the stairs back down. 

Astonishingly, after riding every accessible elevator on campus (I assume there’s a secret one to the VC’s bunker), not one other played music. This discovery made the music in the elevator of Old Teachers’ College all the more captivating — and highly improbable that I even found it in the first place. Suddenly, questions inundated my mind: what was the name of the song? Why did it play the sound of chirping tropical birds in between the loop? And, above all, why did it play anything at all?

I brought a number of these questions to the elevator’s manufacturer ThyssenKrupp. After waiting on hold for a bit, a company agent asked how they could help me. As soon as I mentioned music, they hung up. I tried a number of times, from different phones, delaying my mention of music for as long as possible, desperate for answers. They wouldn’t budge. But what I first thought was stonewalling, a devious coverup of nefarious activity, turned out to be something very different: I had been calling the 24-hour emergency repair and fault hotline. 

After going through more appropriate channels, ThyssenKrupp told me they could be no help —  music was selected and installed by the operator, not the manufacturer. So I did what any student journalist worth their salt would do — I contacted the University. It’s a shame they didn’t have a clue either, but they did identify the song. 

According to Andrew Lavery, Co-Director and Co-Chair of the Sydney College of the Arts (which calls the bottom floor of Old Teachers’ home), the song is an instrumental version of The Carpenters’ Yesterday Once More, a 1973 pop sensation that is the easiest listening you’ll ever find. Of course, none of this explains the tropical bird soundscape that cleanses the audio palette in between repeat performances, as not a single version of the song includes that unique little morsel. 

Sadly, the elevator is now out of order, with no explanation of the fault and an expected completion time of “TBA.” Whether that’s due to my repeated use or a Uni admin conspiracy, we’ll never know. But for superfans of The Carpenters or just superfans of a good time, if and when Old Teachers’ College opens its elevator doors once more, I hope you find the time for a ride — it’s the best chirping gig in town.