After being silent for nearly 20 years, the carillon at Sycamore’s Salem Lutheran Church is once again providing music for church members and its surrounding neighbors. About 75 people gathered on the church’s front lawn underneath the carillon Sunday night for a concert to celebrate its return.
Although the tower contains three physical bells, a computer actually produces the sounds. A new digital system was installed at the church in spring that produces more than 750 titles from Flemish bells, English bells and harp bells.
The old system, which was installed in the 1970s and used tape reels, broke in the early 2000s, leaving the tower silent. The new carillon now chimes on every hour and plays short melodies at noon and
6 p.m., as well as on special occasions.
Carla Vanatta, church deacon, said bells have been used for centuries in churches as a call to worship, or as a sound of alarm.
“[The bells] are an audible witness to the community and an outreach because sometimes the toll of a bell can remind people of God’s presence or that someone is thinking of them,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback. Community members have told us that they’re enjoying the sounds of the bells.”
Church organist Ron Vanatta programmed the computer’s playlist for the carillon, which works from a remote control. He said it sounds just like a real carillon, which would be impossible to have in the church’s tower because so many bells would be required to produce the same sounds as the digital program.
“We’d need to have 183 bells to make all of the notes, and that’s not doable. This suits our purposes and more,” he said.
Sycamore resident and church member Barb Schlawin said she’s surprised at how many songs the program can play.
“I think it’s wonderful to have it again. It’s almost like a call to prayer when you hear it. I was excited to bring it back,” Schlawin said.
The $13,000 system was paid for through donations and memorial gifts. Maryanne Bross and her daughter, both of whom are church members, gifted the congregation with a large donation as a memorial to Bross’ late husband specifically for the carillon.
“We love music, we love the sound of the bells, so my daughter wanted to donate the money,” Bross said. “This is something we all wanted and appreciate. The whole church and the neighborhood can enjoy it.”
Longtime church member Jan Holland helped raise the funds for the carillon. She said church members were very supportive of the carillon’s restoration.
“I can remember we had bells on the old church on Somonauk Street. Hearing them brings me back to when I was a little girl,” she said.
Mike and Sharon Wadle of Sycamore are not members of Salem Lutheran, but have friends who are and wanted to visit Sunday to hear the music.
“This is a celebration of music. We live in the neighborhood and can hear it from a few blocks away. It’s a nice sound and reminds me of when I was a kid and could hear church bells,” Mike Wadle said.
Salem Lutheran’s new pastor, Preston Fields, wasn’t involved with the fundraising or planning for the carillon, but he said he appreciates having the music for his congregation to enjoy.
“The bells are a good way to call people to church. They’re one of the hallmarks of our Lutheran faith, and music is important to us,” he said.