Mailbag 20: The Sounds of Worship

Project reader James Hale raises a point that, believe it or not, has never come up before. Way to go, James--just when I thought I'd heard it all.

To the letter:

I was interested in reading you church reviews that you never remarked on the bells in any of the churches. Two churches in particular have rather nice bell carillons. There are two in particular that I noticed were absent.

One is St Francis de Sales that is played briefly before mass and the other in St Charles Borromeo, which is mostly played after mass for a longer time and maybe when you were there was played before as well. I play both the bells and the organ at St Charles. As you commented on the beauty of the organ I assume you were there when I was playing. I generally always play the bells as well. Actually I fully restored the bells back in 2005. The action had been totally destroyed earlier in the century in order to motorize only three of the eleven bells. Originally there had been wooden sticks going from the second floor where the organ is to the top of the tower. I had to build a new mechanism using steel cables.

The set at St Francis is nearly identical except that it lacks the large tenor bell weighing 3100 pounds as their steeple does not have space for it. Only about three such bell works exist in the city. There is much larger carillon at Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square. It has 25 bells and as such is a full carillon. That one however is played by CD roms. The original playing mechanism is now in a museum somewhere.

It's true that the Project's musical inclinations are confined to the masses themselves. Why are carillon bells not included? Remember this little tidbit from our disclaimers page?

The Project is not an architectural, sociological or historical expert, so please take our reviews accordingly. We are a hobbyist and enthusiast, and to that end introduce as much information and detail as possible. But we don't know everything, and nor do we have the time to really try. Many times we simply go by what we see when visiting a church.

That last part is bolded for emphasis. We've usually had a very short window of time at these parishes, and unless the bells play during the time we're there, they don't tend to factor in our reviews. Since carillon bells ring at brief, predetermined intervals, it's not surprising our paths haven't crossed.

That said, it's still something we'll try to be more cognizant of in the future.