Honoring Black History Month with Bells

As Black History Month comes to a close, the National Bell Festival was thrilled to join John Widmann, city carillonneur of Frederick, MD, inside the imposing Joseph D. Baker Tower and Carillon for his weekly performance on bells. A few intrepid Bell Raisers enjoyed a fascinating and behind-the-scenes look into the history and mechanics of the carillon – while listening to select repertoire inspired by the Black experience in America.

The rain, it must be noted, was relentless as Bell Raisers scurried across the expansive Baker Park to find refuge in the 70-ft. bell tower at its center. After spiraling up narrow metal stairs (Rubber-soled shoes? Check.), Bell Raisers emerged into the playing cabin of the bell tower, which houses the main keyboard instrument that sounds the bells above. We were greeted by Mr. Widmann as he was preparing his weekly 30-minute recital. 

He then sat down to play. As he has throughout February, Mr. Widmann selected pieces that paid tribute to Black history, including "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round," a traditional tune arranged by Jen Wang. And while the melodies are best appreciated from the manicured acres surrounding the bell tower, the unremitting rain kept us from venturing back outside. Instead, we watched, listened, and learned while Mr. Widmann narrated his selections.

We think it’s important that all Americans understand the histories, struggles, achievements, and dreams of their neighbors, and we were glad that a bit of this was conveyed in the gentle tinkling of bells this last Sunday. Talk about some good vibrations!