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Northeast Ohio Carillons Provide Musical Relief During Pandemic

Sheryl Modlin is the face behind the music at Church of the Saviour in Cleveland Heights [Mary / Fecteau]
Hidden in a tower room, Sheryl Modlin plays the carillon at Church of the Saviour in Cleveland Heights

In a time where religious gatherings are discouraged, a collection of historic instruments is making music as a spiritual salve to the coronavirus pandemic. The carillons in the towers of four Northeast Ohio churches are due to ring out every weekend for the foreseeable future with sounds that listeners can experience with appropriate social distancing, sitting in their cars or standing on the sidewalks below. 

Worship services may be on pause, but the music still rings through the air [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

A carillon is a set of tuned bronze bells that are played from a console in a church tower. It’s a musical practice that dates back centuries and is usually associated with religious events or seasons. But with the dwindling opportunities to hear live music of late, the plan is for each of the area’s four carillons to add their soothing sounds to the air every weekend. George Leggiero, the carillonneur at the Church of the Covenant in University Circle, said the decision was made to keep the bells ringing.

George Leggiero plays in the tower above the Church of the Covenant [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

"And even though there weren't church services, the carillons decided that at that time on Sunday morning, they would still get in the tower and play to provide something regular in this time when everything seems to be shutting down," Leggiero said.

Becky Everett plays the carillon at St. Christopher-by-the-River in Gates Mills. She loves how the bells resound though the countryside or across an urban landscape.

"I like the idea of music going out and echoing almost like, you know, when you throw a stone across water, you skip it across water and you see the ripples that just keep going out and out and out," Everett said.

Becky Everett is behind the carillon console at St. Christopher by-the-River in Gates Mills [Becky Everett] 

She thinks there is some solace in those concentric circles of sound that ring from the church towers.

"It's a way for churches to reach out to community and give some comfort," she said.

George Leggiero suggests there’s a long cultural tradition related to the calming and centering qualities of vibrating bells.

The clappers of each church's carillon are controlled by a row of levers that ring each bell [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

"If you want to get mystical about it, those vibrations have always been seen as healing or clearing the air," he said. "You can see that in the eastern meditations with the meditation bells. And if you look back in medieval times, the bells were often used for healing."

Sheryl Modlin is carillonneur at Church of the Saviour in Cleveland Heights [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

Carillon bells also ring from the towers of St. Paul’s Episcopal and Church of the Saviour, both in Cleveland Heights.

David Osburn makes the music ring at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Cleveland Heights [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

The organizers of the carillon concerts plan to continue them every weekend for the foreseeable future. This despite the fact that the state of Ohio issued a Stay at Home order, now in effect. Spokeswoman Denise Horstman said that this past weekend’s performances respected the governor’s mandate.

"And we feel like our giant instruments high up in church towers are especially suited to giving people music in this extraordinary time of physical isolation," Horstman said. "You know, the performers and the listeners alike are either indoors or they're walking outdoors. They're supporting our governors plea for keeping distance from one another. But it's also helping our mental health."

George Leggiero will play the McGaffin carillon at the Church of the Covenant on Fridays from 12:15 – 12:45 p.m. and Sundays from 10 –10:15 a.m. In Cleveland Heights, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church carillonneur David Osburn will play on Sundays at 11 a.m. Sheryl Modlin will play the Arter Memorial Carillon at Church of the Saviour in Cleveland Heights on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at 11:30 a.m. In Gates Mills, Becky Everett will play the carillon of St. Christopher by-the-River on Sundays at 10:15 a.m.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.