Arts & Entertainment

Oldest Tower Chimes in U.S. Making Beautiful Music Again

Located in the chapel at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, they're 100+ years old

You might think it unusual to hear the John Lennon song Imagine ringing from the tower of a church, but Allegheny College junior music major Jacob Sutter doesn't. It's one of his favorite songs to play on the century-old, newly renovated Crawford Chimes in Ford Memorial Chapel on the Allegheny campus in Meadville, PA

"It's about inclusivity and everybody being as one. So being able to play it where so many people can hear it, I think that's a really great thing," said Sutter in a lovely video about the chimes, produced by the college (click here to watch the video).

Allegheny College junior Jacob Sutter plays the 100-year-old tower chimes in Ford Memorial Chapel, the oldest in the U.S. Allegheny College News

Last fall, the college had the tower chimes brought back to their original sound, which is powerful enough to be heard across the campus.

Technician Bill Pugh, a historic preservationist, worked on the system. He says the Deagan Company tower chimes system in Ford Chapel is one of some 440 systems ever built. There are fewer than ten left, and Allegheny's is the oldest functioning set in the country. "Hopefully, they'll still be ringing in 50 years," Pugh told the Meadville Tribune.

"They're a wonderful instrument as well as wonderful history." Bill Pugh, historic preservationist

The fact that the system has a keyboard of only 14 notes and doesn't include two of the black keys in the octave "kind of limits what you can play," said Sutter. The keys on the keyboard correspond to the 14 chimes in the belfry.

Some chimes were manufactured with dozens of keys, but this one has only 14. Allegheny College News

"You can't play more than one note at a time, and you have to hold it down long enough for it to sound, so there's a lot of timing in it," Sutter told the Tribune. Be Thou My Vision, Scarborough Fair, Ode to Joy, Sweet and Low, O Come O Come Emmanuel and, of course, the school's Alma Mater are some of the other songs that fit the limited note range of the chimes.

"It's a one of a kind opportunity to be able to play these." Jacob Sutter, Allegheny College music major

Campus Chaplain Jane Nickell, who recruited Sutter to play the chimes is looking for a fill-in player over summer vacation, and Sutter's permanent replacement when he graduates next year. If she can't find one, she'll play. "To know that we had these hidden gems up in the bell tower waiting to be called back into song has been an exciting thing for me," Nickell said.

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