By TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media
For more than 35 years, St. Thomas’ Church Whitemarsh has offered concerts during the summer season. The tradition continues this year.
The church’s carillon is the featured instrument each night, with other entertainment following that performance (choral, brass bands, tower tours, and more).
A carillon has 23 or more bells, which are hung stationary with only the clapper moving against the lip of the bell. Musicians play this instrument via a console where they use hands and feet to activate batons and pedals attached to the clappers through mechanical linkage. The performers are known as carillonneurs.
The concert series kicks off at 7 p.m. on July 1 with Wine Down Tuesday featuring carillonneur Steven Ball of Atlantic City, N.J.
The series continues for four more Tuesdays and all concerts are rain or shine.
Lisa Lonie, of Blue Bell, will perform on July 23. She’s St. Thomas’ carillonneur and has been performing on this unique instrument since she was a teenager. She likes the anonymity as opposed to piano recitals, which required her to be the center of attention, and the fact that the music is available to anyone within hearing distance of the church.
“Since the carillon can be heard up to about a mile in all directions, you never know who’s listening,” she said.
She likes combining familiar music with compositions written for the carillon.
“Mixing it up keeps it fresh for the listeners and for me as the performer,” she said. “The type of music, however, depends on the audience.”
Audiences she performs for include St. Thomas churchgoers and Princeton students.
“One should not play the Angry Birds theme for parishioners, but it’s totally OK for students,” she said.
She’s happy playing anything and everything.
“Making music for the community is the best. Anyone who wants to pause and listen, can. Or it can just be background music while neighbors are gardening or students are moving between classes,” she said.
Lonie has played at St. Thomas since 1999. She worked at Trinity UCC for 15 years before that. In 2012, she was named carillonneur of Princeton University. Her Sundays are really busy running between towers and teaching — she has a teaching studio at Princeton.
The concert series at St. Thomas allows the carillonneurs to break loose, she said.
“This year, there will be Broadway tunes, folksongs, a tribute to Judy Garland, and on-the-spot improvisation on a theme submitted by the audience, just to name a few,” she said.
The music has to be carefully composed and arranged so that the smaller bells in the upper ranges aren’t drowned out by the larger, louder sounding bells on the bottom. And the carillonneurs have to be coordinated — they play the treble clef notes with their hands and the bass clef with their feet.
“Watching the carillonneur perform isn’t a particularly beautiful experience as compared to a violinist or harpist because our hands and feet are always moving and we’re usually working up a sweat,” she said. “But the music coming out of the tower makes up for it.”
The concerts feature a live television feed between the church tower, where the 48 bronze bells of St. Thomas’ carillon hang, and the ground, so listeners can view each carillonneur during his or her performance. Even if you can’t see the performer, though, know that whenever you hear the bells of St. Thomas, it’s a person playing (as opposed to programmed music). And for the concert series, five unique carillonneurs will showcase their individual styles.
“You’ll hear the ebb and flow of the music,” she said. “The true musicality of the instrument and the emotion of the performer come through with the human touch.”
AT A GLANCE
July 1: Wine Down Tuesday — bring your favorite vino.
Steven Ball, carillonneur, Atlantic City, N.J.
July 8: Eat to the Beat — bring your picnic dinner.
Doug Gefvert, carillonneur, Valley Forge. Tower tours at 8 p,m.
July 15: Orin Hamilton Memorial Concert with carillonneur Tim Sleep, Naperville, IL. Beck’s Philadelphia Brigade Band — Civil War Era Brass Band at 8 p.m.
July 23: Janet and Dwight Dundore Memorial Concert with carillonneur Lisa Lonie, Whitemarsh. Steven Ball, organ, Atlantic City, N.J. at 8 p.m.
July 30:Family Fun & Frolic Concert with carillonneur Ray McLellan, East Lansing, MI. The Valley Forge Sweet Adelines at 8 p.m.