belle bells …

June 5, 2009 § 12 Comments

The Cathedral Basilica of St Louis is one of the “hottest” tourist stops  in the city, ranking right up there with the Arch and the Botanical Gardens.  If you can’t get to the real thing, take a peak at the web site which doesn’t include a whole lot of pictures unless you wade around in it a bit, but you’ll get the “feeling” with the music accompaniment on the site.

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It is true in its lift upward. It is stone, and it soars within, even wrought as it is, in rounded Byzantine style.

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No one knows exactly what to expect inside aside from what one might call the obvious. Each approaches quietly, open, hopeful, I think, regardless of the occasion that draws them within. That is, at least, how everyone acts.

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No one knows what feelings may occur, what  anyone is thinking, what communal spirit will be there, what individual moments and epiphanies, what sounds, what words, what light through the great windows, will happen.

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No one knows with any certainty the beliefs or prayers, if any, or hopes of the person sitting next to him or her in this place. That is part of its magic, its power. It is a grand stone place, sanctified for mediation and celebration and it is unconcerned, as buildings are, with who comes together here.  The cathedral exists only so that they do come together.

And on one night this week, the Cathedral was open to welcome the bell choir from Westminster College in Princeton, NJ. It was our last “season” ticket to the Cathedral series. We’d seen Chanticleer (powerful a cappella), the Dublin Symphony (OMG, remarkable), the Vienna Boys Choir, and a special Xmas concert. I though, oh dear, a bell choir, yikes, ho hum.

Sometimes it’s great to be utterly and completely wrong.
The Bell Choir was enchanting.  The bell ringers played all kinds of musci on big honking gorgeous 18-poud bells and wee pocket-size bells and a new “chime” that sounds like something in a fantasy and every bell in between, from C1 to C9.

They wrought bell sounds but also nearly choral sounds and huge  Big Ben sounds and such a range! They were all students.  There was personality as well as extreme musicianship. The group had already been touring for two weeks and they were tuned and blended and had even honed their high jinx into surprising and enjoyable schtick as well. The 16-member group sounded like a group of one fine fluent…thing. They made us laugh and sit in expectation and close our eyes nearly humming with the bell vibes and overall, they wove a story.

I am a succor for a story. Who isn’t? It started thousands and thousands of years ago around campfires. Stories and music. Harmony. 
This bell choir told the story of how hundreds of people in a great cathedral are joined for 90 minutes on a nearly summer night, then walk away, resonating.

DSCN6371The big silver bells are made of aluminum. They weigh approx 8 lbs.  Not terribly heavy and able to be rung by hand, they are struck with mallets. The sound is so enchantingly “basso,” it’s surprising. However, their counterparts made of brass, same size, weigh 18 lbs.  The aluminum ones are therefore really “catching on.”

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§ 12 Responses to belle bells …

  • anno says:

    What a beautiful place, and a wonderful experience — thanks for taking us there!

  • Bellezza says:

    Oh, my goodness, that is exactly the kind of church I’ve been looking for! Out church, of thousands of members, is very special to me. But, the building itself is more like an auditorium than a sanctuary. I miss the arches, the stone, the light, the holiness that somehow seems more present in your pictures than in so many church buildings. I’d glad that the bell choir was a pleasant surprise; I bet the acoustics were incredible along with their skill.

    You have won Best Intentions from my blog post, so if you’d send me your address (bellezza.mjs@gmail.com) I’ll send it off to you. I just had to honor your enthusiasm about Manhatten. 😉

  • Pamela says:

    Thank you so much for your visit and sweet comment! And for leading me here to your lovely blog. I have enjoyed my perusal here and know I shall return! You are welcome over at my place anytime! I am sure Edward feels the same.

    Happy weekend to you!

  • Care says:

    Bell Choirs are amazing!

  • shoreacres says:

    What a nice, quiet weekend post. The link to the Basilica was an especially nice touch, and as for bell-ringers – I just love them, whether they are working with handbells or the really big boys out in the bell tower!

    I agree with Bellezza – enough, already, with the square brick shoeboxes that say (as one in my neighborhood does) “communitychurch.org” on the facade. Not even ST. Communitychurch.org. Oh, well.

    If I ever get to St. Louis, this place will be on my let’s-go-there list!

  • This looks beautiful and I’m sure the concert was lovely.

    I used to have that same feeling at St. John the Divine in NYC when I was growing up.

  • Arti says:

    Beautiful and very European. I clicked the link you provided and speculated why it’s one of the most visited sites in St. Louis. I’m just guessing… maybe because there’s a school on site. I can see the appeal of a faith-based school within such an awesome environment can have on parents seeking the traditional and classical vein of education for their children today… a rare find I suppose. Thanks for sharing!

  • qugrainne says:

    How lucky you were to go to this concert! I love bells – especially church bells which are incredible and HUGE things that seems to live and breath!

    My mom’s church has a bell choir – small brass hand bells. I love going on Christmas Eve to hear and watch – it never lasts long enough. Each ringer is in charge of three or four bells, and their white gloved hands race back and forth over their responsibilities.

    Thanks for sharing this lovely experience.

  • jeanie says:

    How I wish I’d read your post before Rick’s friend from St. Louis departed this morning, so I could share it with him. What a glorious experience — and what an unbelievable venue for the concerts you have enjoyed there this year. Don’t you love it when you are surprised oh, so very pleasantly! Under-expectations can often yield grand benefits!

  • oh says:

    Dear all, I reworded my first sentence cuz I misspoke! The Cathedral is one of the top most visited “places” in St. Louis – not its web site. I just stuck the web site in there in case you wanted to see/hear! more.

    And I was sooo glad to hear from all of you on this entry. Tough to translate the Cathedral because it’s magnificent though almost gaudy and I believe that in spite of its size, it’s a very “personal” place for those who attend it for services, weddings, performances, etc.

    Anno – glad you enjoyed!
    DB – Yes, great acoustics! Wish you could come over. If you’re ever in St Louis…!
    Pam – thanks for stopping by – a big hello to Edward, what a cutie.
    Care – if only I could figure out how to upload my mini video “films”, you could hear it, too.
    Shore- I do hope you get this way. ANd you will love the Cathedral, even if it’s empty.
    Jen – I just took at look at ST John….what a lovely place…the City holds so many gorgeous treasures.
    Hi, Arti – I wish I had the “tourist” stats on how many people visit the Basilica. We don’t get there on a regular basis, either but when we do, we tend to stay awhile.
    Q – Those ringers can move, can’t they? and the ones who were using mallets on the big bells were literally “rocking” in the back elevated row! So glad you enjoyed this!

  • ds says:

    Beautiful cathedral, beautiful music, beautifully told. Thank you.

  • Becca says:

    I had no idea this beautiful cathedral existed! Thanks for introducing it so wonderfully 🙂

    I’m glad you enjoyed Westminster – they are one of the best in the bell choir business.

    I ring in a community/professional handbell group myself – we actually have one of the largest “instruments” in the handbell world – seven octaves of bells and seven octaves of choir chimes. We have chimes that are nearly six feet tall, and have to be wheeled around on a rack! (I don’t get to play those -I’m too short!)

    I’d love to ring in a venue like the one you’ve described! Must be glorious!

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