STORY BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
For 35 years, neighbors of St. Thomas’ Church have heard music fill the air in Fort Washington during the summer. That tradition continues with the annual community recital series held in July and August.
The centerpiece of sounds is the carillon, which is a musical instrument comprised of 23 or more bells. The largest bell of the St. Thomas’ carillon weighs 3,300 pounds. The smallest weighs only 24. The bells are stationary, hung from the ceiling, and only the clapper moves against the lip of the bell.
Who makes the clapper move? The carillon player, called a carillonneur, who manually presses parts of a console with both fists and feet. That activates batons and pedals attached to the clappers through mechanical linkage.
This year, as in years past, the line-up features regional and international carillonneurs and other performers. Longtime St. Thomas carillonneur Lisa Lonie, who also organized the series, will perform as well. She’ll be accompanied by organist Stephen Schreiber, of Spring House, on the last night of the series.
During a conference call with both, the duo revealed they will perform Carillon de Westminster, a fantasia on the Westminster chimes. What makes it unique here is that Lonie will be 50 feet above Schreiber — she’ll be in the church tower playing the carillon while he’s below playing the organ. That means they can’t see each other, to cue each other or to keep time. That’s a challenge. But technology helps the centuries-old carillon keep up with the more modern organ — Schreiber hears the sounds Lonie makes through a headset instantaneously.
“It travels at the speed of sound and it’s there,” Lonie said. “That’s how we make it work.”
It’s extra challenging for Lonie because once Schreiber starts, he doesn’t stop.
“I have to follow him and I don’t have that visual. We can’t talk to each other,” she said. “Once he starts, no matter what happens, I have to go.”
She keeps his organ score in front of her, so she reads her own and his music, too.
“It’s a complicated road map,” Schreiber said.
They practice and that’s key, Lonie said. It helps that Schreiber has carillon as well as organ training.
“I understand there’s a delay in creating the sound,” he said. “The clappers in the carillon have to hit the bells, and that takes a little longer than on the organ, where pushing a key is faster.”
Schreiber, who is the Director of Music at Ambler’s Trinity Episcopal Church, thinks the audience will get a kick out of hearing Westminster.
“Everybody knows it the song and it’s a glorious sound,” he said. “The carillon has wonderfully tuned bells and the organ is a stand-out in the community. You combine and you get this tremendous atmospheric thing.”
“And it ends big,” Lonie said, “with my bells and his whistles.”
And it’s just a nice evening out, as all of the nights of the series will be. Both Lonie and Schreiber encourage people to attend even just for the atmosphere of the church’s grounds.
“Just come out and enjoy the beauty of the growth, the trees,” she said.
“If people have never been there, they owe it to themselves to just experience the quiet beauty of the place. It’s a relaxing evening in a beautiful location,” he said. “There’s really no other place like it.”
And both know people will get as much enjoyment out of the entertainment as they do.
“We really have a lot of fun,” Schreiber said.
July 7: Wine Down Tuesday (audience members can bring wine)
Koen Cosaert, carillonneur, from Mechelen, Belgium and Zing Kings Retro Band
July 14: Eat to the Beat (audience members are invited to bring a picnic)
Leonard Weiss, carillonneur, from Canberra, Australia and tower tours
July 21: Celebrating 150th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment Abolishing Slavery
Roy Kroezen, carillonneur, from The Netherlands and Sounds of Liberty Barbershop Chorus, of Philadelphia
July 28: Orin Hamilton Memorial Concert
Hunter Chase, carillonneur, from Chicago, IL and the Irish Thunder Bagpipe Band
Aug 4: Janet and Dwight Dundore Memorial Concert
Stephen Schreiber, organ and Lisa J. Lonie, carillonneur, plus a candlelight labyrinth walk.
IF YOU GO
What: Carillon Concert Series
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, July 7 through Aug. 4.
Where: St. Thomas Church Whitemarsh, 7020 Camp Hill Road, Ft. Washington.
Info.: Call (215) 233-3970 or visit www.StThomasWhitemarsh.org.