Bell tower will play the same tunes, but “for real”

The full carillon, installed

Supervisors also add to insurance for the bell tower

The installation crew from the Verdin Company put in what county engineer Wade Weiss called “a very productive weekend” as they neared completion on the four-octave carillon atop the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower.

The Westminster Chimes played from the top of the tower Wednesday at 11 am, signaling their work is nearly complete. Those five bells were the only bells of the original 14 not to be taken down last fall, but they were silenced since work began last Tuesday on installing the new bells.

After installation is finished, there will still be touch up work to be done on painting at the top of the tower, a job that “is not up to the potential of the project,” Weiss told the county supervisors Tuesday. “That will have no effect on the bells or their operation, but we’ve paid enough for this project, it needs to be done right,” he said.

Weiss is withholding $10,000 from the final payment for the project until the deficiencies in the painting are corrected.

People who listen carefully to the tone quality of the bells may notice a difference when music is played again, but casual listeners may not.

Until now, the music sounding from the bell tower (except for the Westminster Chimes on the quarter hour) has been recorded carillon music. The county, on behalf of the Bell Tower Community Foundation, owns a catalog of about 1,000 songs.

Those 1,000 songs have all been converted to be playable on the new system. Weiss called the conversion “quite a process.” Going forward, those same songs will be played on the actual bells.

The speakers are now obsolete, as even the programmed music will sound from the actual bells.

That will be in addition to the 12:15 Tower Tunes mini concerts planned by the Foundation. The Tower Tunes will be played “live” by a roster of local musicians at a keyboard on the mezzanine of the bell tower.

The speakers used for the recorded music are now obsolete, but Weiss recommended the county keep them as a back-up should the bells need repair.

After discussion, the supervisors designated county IT coordinator Michelle Fields as the liaison to the Foundation for matters pertaining to music and the actual playing of the bells. Fields has been trained by Verdin Company in operation of the keyboard. There are distinct differences between playing a carillon and playing a piano or organ, and Fields will become the “go-to” person as musicians work through that process.

Insurance – The supervisors also met Tuesday with Joan St Clair and Jill Hankel of MacDonald Insurance, agent for the county’s property and liability insurance.

With St Clair’s recommendation, the county will add the value of the new bells to the property insurance. That will add $1 per $1,000 in value of the bells to the premium cost, expected to be less than $400 per year.

The supervisors also agreed to add the Bell Tower Community Foundation to the county’s liability coverage. The coverage will extend to the Foundation only on activities the Foundation does on behalf of the county and will be of “minimal” cost, St Clair said.

The additional coverage for the Foundation is prompted by concern for the musicians who will climb steep, narrow stairs to the mezzanine to play the carillon. The Foundation’s attorney, Bob Schwarzkopf, and Weiss both agreed the change is needed.

Supervisors’ board chair John Muir has used the stairs. “I don’t know how long you want to roll the dice that someone’s going to slip and fall,” Muir said in support of the change in insurance.

Weiss has recommended the keyboard be moved to the ground level for safety reasons.

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