Downtown spire erupts in music

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September 12, 2005 // UPDATED 1:57 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

A joyful noise was heard Aug. 31 from Central Lutheran Church, 333 S. 12th St., as 47 carillon bells resounded for blocks from a 139-foot bell tower, the scaffolded spire that is nearing the end of construction after more than 80 years of planning.

That's right -- the tower was included in the 1925 plans for the church, which was built spire-less in 1928 -- the year before the stock market crashed and ushered in a global Depression, explained Pastor Gordon Braatz. Funds for the tower dried up, and the church has had other priorities, Braatz said -- until three years ago, when an anonymous donor gave $ 4 million to finally complete construction on the tower's footings, which remained from 1925.

The first full concert of the bells was actually a test. The music was part of a fine-tuning by technicians, including a 7th-generation bellmaker from Paccard foundry in Annecy, France, which made the bells as it has been doing for 250 years, Braatz said.

The carillon can be played in several ways, from the "very traditional to computerized methods," said Braatz. Trained "carilloneurs" can play the bells manually through a clavier, which strikes the bells with the "nuances of the player lost in the electronic linkage," by which the carillon may also be played remotely, Braatz said. A computer can also play music automatically from specially-recorded CDs.

The tower itself is essentially a container for the bells, Braatz said, whose top isn't quite done. The spire will be covered with 3,500 pieces of Indiana limestone, cut to the Gothic style, which were gathered from the same quarry as during the 1926 construction, for "a striking match," Braatz said.

Braatz said he was excited to finally hear the magnificent blend of the bells, each cast and tuned to a particular pitch. The first official use will likely be on Christmas, he said. The church will decide later when the bells will be rung.

"For the sake of our neighbors, they'll be used judiciously," Braatz said.