Vol. I No. 03 9/1/2020
Our Children's Chimes
by Bruce Blair
The Children's Chimes bell tower is silent for yet another season. In recent years, the ringing has been increasingly interrupted for ad hoc repairs. In 2017, it became clear that renovations could no longer be put off.
The chimes are a rare musical commodity, played entirely by hand instead of computer, using cables and levers that had not been serviced since 1975. The frame holding the heavy bells on the floor above the playing console was being held up by temporary jacks, probably for decades, and had begun to sag toward the wall of the tower itself. Cables sometimes broke while the chimes were being played. The levers had become so unevenly matched as musical instruments that playing them required a feel for the unexpected in pressure and return that made timing an evolving challenge. That we had made it through the previous several years at all was due to the repair efforts of town highway department employee and mechanical wizard Lindy Searing, who serviced the bells as well as played them.
Mary Boyce was a member of the Finance Committee at the time, conveyed the need for repairs to the Board of Selectmen near the close of the 2017 season. The bells ceased operation. By the fall of 2019 there was still no plan, so chimes leader Claire Williams and I decided on our own to seek out expert help and apply for a Community Preservation grant to cover the costs. The family-run Verdin Company in Ohio has been doing this work since 1842. Verdin's long and extensive body of work and their passion and expertise convinced me that they are the people for the job. The only other comparable companies are in Europe.
Verdin gave us a comprehensive assessment and proposal for long term repairs for around $166,000. Town officials wanted the cost to be put on the town warrant rather than use Community Preservation Funds, and apparently added another $100,000 to the cost to cover an engineering study of the tower.
After Covid, the Finance Committee wanted the project tabled as too expensive under the circumstances. They also wanted the project put out to bid. In all fairness to the Committee, they probably had little knowledge of what they were being asked to approve.
The Select Board is showing a strong interest in bringing back our landmark chime tower and its unique musical instrument, along with the tradition of playing for the people of the town for the past 140 years. This board has recently shown a knack for connecting some of the various agencies of town government toward a common goal.
So, are the Children's Chimes coming back? Will I ever climb those steps again to play "Shenandoah" once more? The best answer at this time is a firm "maybe". Stay tuned for Updates!
Children's Chime Tower