Bringing the Bells to You with Live-Streamed Carillon Concerts

What happens when life gives you lemons? You make lemonade! The old adage certainly held true at this year’s National Bell Festival. Confronted by the unprecedented health and safety risks of the novel coronavirus, we re-envisioned our community festival and presented an entire lineup of free and fun digitally-streamed events. And while we host a program of activities across genres (like fitness, culinary, and classical music), our bell ringing events are always the most popular.

That, of course, presents a dilemma during a pandemic. How can people safely gather around a bell tower to listen to the cascading hymns and tunes from above? When you think of a bell tower, you might picture a tall structure with tremendous bells ringing out across a city. But not everyone has a bell tower in their town, or near enough to their home, or even one whose sound rises above the din of traffic and city life. There’s also the worry of exposure to COVID-19 that is keeping people socially distant and safely ensconced at home.

So this year, we brought the bells to them! Two of our carillon concerts were live-streamed on New Year’s Day. From within the 329-ft. Knights’ Tower at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Dr. Robert Grogan performed a program of beloved hymns and classical melodies. Thousands of festivalgoers tuned-in online, watched Dr. Grogan at work on the carillon, and heard the music exactly as he hears it from within his perch nestled among the bells. Even better? You can catch an encore of the bell ringing on YouTube!

John Widmann (pictured), city carillonneur of Frederick, MD, also live-streamed his recital. From the Joseph D. Baker Tower and Carillon in the heart of Baker Park, festivalgoers were enchanted with a selection of beloved songs – including "The Star-Spangled Banner" in tribute to one of Frederick’s most notable sons: Francis Scott Key, author of the American national anthem.

We can’t wait for the end of this pandemic, when “social nearing” is a thing again! But even then, we’ll likely keep streaming carillon concerts online, so no matter where you are in the world, you can join in and enjoy the tintinnabulation with us.