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