Tradition meets technology: Basilica bells ring again with the help of special software
'They'll know what time it is, they'll know whether there's a wedding or funeral or mass'
Tradition meets technology on Canada Day as the bells of St. Dunstan's Basilica in Charlottetown ring again for the first time in more than three decades.
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"We're very excited about this new addition to our repertoire of music making," said Leo Marchildon, music director at the basilica.
Eighteen church bells were recently re-installed in the north tower of the basilica after a tune-up at the foundry in South Carolina where they were initially produced in the 1920s.
The bells were taken down from the steeple in the late '70s because of structural concerns.
Ring on the hour
The bells are automated and computer software allows Marchildon to pre-record tunes and set them to be rung at certain times.
For example, there will be certain songs played for weddings, funerals and mass.
The bells will ring between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day, each time started with a short fanfare that Marchildon created.
"The idea is, by having all these various automated melodies sequenced in, people in the local area will be able to tell what's happening at any time of the day just by hearing the bells," explained Marchildon.
"They'll know what time it is, they'll know whether there's a wedding or funeral or mass on the way so it will be sort of a local announcement."
Marchildon uses a keyboard designed by the Christoph Paccard Bell company which allows him to play them manually on special occasions.
He has also written a new song that will have its premiere when the bells are played for the first time called The Bells of St. Dunstan's.
"What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in clarity," joked Marchildon about the title of the new piece.
Preparing for the debut of the bells has not been without some challenges.
Marchildon sits near the front of the basilica, at the organ console, and from that position, he has a hard time hearing the bells.
"I cannot hear the bells properly, they are very faint," he said.
Marchildon was also not really able to practise.
"Unfortunately there is really no way at this point in time of hearing the bells properly in here, you'd have to go outside to hear them and of course everyone else will hear it," he said.
"So it's as if I'm trying to practise an instrument, but everyone hears it more than I do, it's very unforgiving that way."
The plan, he said, is to get some kind of sound system that would allow the bells to be heard in the church. He would like to someday include them in a concert performance at the basilica.
'Sense of history'
Marchildon is excited to have the bells back at St. Dunstan's after so long in storage.
"I think it adds a certain sense of history to the city," he said.
"This will be wonderful to actually bring this little bit of tradition back."
He points to the spires of St. Dunstan's as one of the signature landmarks of the capital city.
"It's part of the cultural colour of a city like this, especially one such as Charlottetown which has such a historical importance," he said.
"It adds that acoustic element to it beyond the visual, because the splendour of the basilica is self-evident."
The bells will ring again as part of a Canada Day celebration at St. Dunstan's, starting at 9:30 a.m.
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