CHICAGO -- Technology is changing the face of even church bells. Over the last few decades, most hand operated bells have been replaced by digital recordings that blare out of tower speakers. In fact, in Chicago, there are only two church towers with vintage hand operated arrays of bells left.
One carillon is located in St. Chrysostom’s Church in the Gold Coast.
“To me, the sound of a bell is just the most beautiful sound in the world,” says St. Chrysostom’s carillonneur, Kimberly Schafer. “People are always surprised and intrigued because they can’t imagine there’s still somebody actually playing the bells.”
The hand played wooden keyboard was the first bell array of its kind in Chicago. And now it is one of the last.
Schafer uses the edge of her palms to strike the wood batons. The 43 bell array hangs just feet above where the carillonneur plays; the largest weighing just over 5000 pounds.
The bronze cast bells resonate for blocks around St. Chrysostom’s.
“It’s something we want to share,” says Reverend Wes Smedley. “The bells are this really neat way for people biking or walking by to feel drawn in; where we can say, ‘Hey, this is an instrument not just for our church but for our whole community to enjoy.’”
For years, they lie dormant until the Gold Coast Episcopal Church realized their tower held one of the city’s best kept secrets.
Outside St. Chrysostom’s Church, people stop and look up whenever the bells are played, mesmerized by their melancholy ring. That’s all Schafer could hope for, her beloved bells ringing out for all to hear.
“I think bells deserve to be preserved, rung and heard. Most of Chicago’s bells are silent and that makes me really sad. I wish they would all ring again,” she said.
The church currently has a campaign to restore and bring the bells and original structure back to it’s intended beauty. Schafer is not only an accomplished carillonneur, but one of the founders of Chicago Bell Advocates, an organization dedicated to the preservation of all bells.
For more information of free upcoming summer concerts at St. Chrysostom’s, check out their website.
Summer Carillon Festival
Sunday, June 17th at 4 p.m.
1424 North Dearborn, Chicago