The 2023 National Bell Festival in Review

The last reverberations from the final toll of the 2023 National Bell Festival have rippled across the skies. Spanning five continents, the fourth annual festival was a resounding success while ringing people together in the joy of the New Year. 

It all began in Australia. At midnight local time on New Year’s Eve (that’s a very early 8:00am for us in Washington, D.C.), the Bathurst War Memorial Carillon erupted into sound. Following the strokes of midnight, Carillonneur Wendy Murphy played a stirring arrangement of “Auld Lang Syne” on the 47 tower bells.

Her performance ignited a chain reaction of carillon recitals across the globe as midnight reached subsequent time zones, from Japan to South Africa and from Belgium to the United States. It was a beautiful moment of collective humanity and international unity with the sound of ringing bells drifting across borders.

…and we were just getting started!

By the time morning on New Year’s Day had rolled around, we’d enjoyed performances across five continents and thousands of bells. But plenty more was in store! This year’s spotlight nation, the United Kingdom, showed-up in force with bell towers in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland erupting into a cacophony of bell ringing.

Members of the Virginia Bronze handbell ringing ensemble perform during the National Bell Festival

Image: Members of the Virginia Bronze handbell ringing ensemble perform a program of British-themed music and melodies at St. John's Church, Lafayette Square, during the National Bell Festival on Jan. 1, 2023.

At 2:00pm Eastern back in the U.S., cathedrals and churches, community organizations and historical structures, national parks and memorials, and people from coast to coast gathered to ring their bells and contribute to the canopy of sound. Talk about some good vibrations!

Honoring the march toward freedom and justice for all

All eyes turned to Washington, D.C., in the afternoon, when the National Bell Festival rang an 1863 bell on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The event began with a reading of the Proclamation by Frederick Douglass IV. As the final toll dissolved over the Reflecting Pool, Dr. BJ Douglass performed a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace.

Then, the National Bell Festival made a big announcement: We’re planning the construction of a new bell tower in Washington called the Emancipation Bells. A grand carillon of 52 bells will be paired with a ring of 12 swinging peal bells, with each bell named in honor of an abolitionist or antislavery activist. The structure will rise near the Bridge District in Southeast D.C. and be the first of its kind east of the Anacostia River.

Special moments from the 2023 National Bell Festival

There were so many wonderful people ringing beautiful bells and sending out good vibrations for the year ahead that we couldn’t possibly choose just one favorite moment from the 2023 National Bell Festival. Although we must say, hearing the Virginia Bronze handbell ensemble perform “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” on bells in honor of our spotlight nation was certainly a treat.

Don’t miss out on all the ringing and fun to come! We’ll be sharing images and stories over on our Facebook and Instagram handles, so feel free to give us a like and a follow to stay in the loop. We’re looking forward to one bell of a year ahead.

Cover image: Two boys walk past the 1863 Fulton bell installed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 2023 National Bell Festival on Jan. 1, 2023.