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From the tall South Tower, the Suffolk Christian Church digital carillon chimes the hour and plays music seven days a week. Monday through Saturday the hour chimes 9 am to 9 pm and music plays one minute after the canonical hours of 9 am, noon, 3 pm, and 6 pm, plus 5 pm daily. Following live and programmed music after the 11 am Sunday worship service, the carillon follows the weekday schedule from 1 pm to 9 pm.

The 61-note electronic instrument was made possible through a bequest of Annie Maude and Clarence "Red" Jones and donors to the SCC Memorial Fund. Manufactured by the Verdin Company, the electronic carillon includes a keyboard for playing live and recording new hymns and songs for future performance. Although this instrument does not meet the definition of a carillon -- an instrument of 23 or more tuned cast bells that allows for expression by variation of touch – it is a musical instrument whose music is integral to the cityscape of Downtown Suffolk.

Listen to our carillon!  Hail Thee, Festival Day            I've Got Peace Like a River


Bell Tuning

The lowest bell sound, called the bourdon bell, plays a low C on the equivalent of a 37,000-lb cast bell. The highest note, also a C, is played on equivalent of a 12-lb bell. 

The bronze bells of a carillon are tuned to a note on the diatonic scale as a result of the size, shape, and lathing of the finished bell. This results in a complex sound for each bell that is self -harmonizing. When struck, the bell sounds the intended note plus a minor third above, a fifth above, and an octave above. The initial sound includes a cluster of notes around the upper octave note that quickly decay. One octave below the intended note is a hum tone. The pronounced minor-third naturally gives the bell a sound different from most other instruments. It may even sound “out of tune”; however, the sounds are correct for a bell instrument. Carillonneurs (those who play instruments of 23 or more bells) typically play one to four at a time.

Because unlike most other instruments, the bells do not dampen and the notes continue to sound until the bell stops vibrating on its own, thus the player must limit the number of notes struck at a time to create a pleasing sound of melody and harmony. The manual keyboard permits some expression by variation of touch.

When Played

The fourth quarter of the Westminster Quarters chimes daily just before the hours of 9 am to 9 pm (except Sundays when they start at 1 pm) with the count sounding on the hour. Songs of the liturgical season play automatically at 9:01 am, 12:01 pm, 3:01 pm, 5:01 pm, and 6:01 pm. General hymns play during Ordinary Time (the season after Epiphany and Pentecost). 

The selection of songs is randomly selected from a seasonal “library” of songs. Seasonal hymns begin the new church year at Advent, followed by Christmas carols starting Christmas Eve. The Christmas season lasts 12 days until Epiphany. On January 6th carols and hymns related to the message of Epiphany play until the first Sunday in Ordinary Time. Lenten hymns begin Ash Wednesday and continue until Palm Sunday. Holy Week hymns play until Good Friday at noon when the bells are silent. The bells resume a jubilant celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord with the Easter Vigil the evening of Holy Saturday. For the next 50 Days Easter hymns play. Orthodox Easter is marked with a zvon, a rhythmic pattern of bells pealed at Russian Orthodox churches. On the 40th day after Easter, Ascension hymns play until the next Sunday, Ascension Sunday. On and for the week following Pentecost (50th day after Easter) the hymns celebrate the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. One week after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday and hymns related to the Triune God play for the next week, the start of Ordinary time. General hymns play until the end of the church year, the last Sunday before Advent, celebrated as Christ the King Sunday. 

Special days for music include sacred and civil holidays and the change of seasons. The service hymns (those songs related to the commemoration or celebration of the day) are typically heard at noon, but may affect the choice of songs throughout the day’s schedule. Rather than pulled from a seasonal library, these may override the season and are selected for the day. Many of these days are listed below. In SCC’s tradition of ecumenicalism and unity, this list includes holy days commemorated by many faith communities. The church year begins with Advent, four Sundays preceding Christmas.

December 6 St. Nicholas of Myra
December 7 Pearl Harbor Day  Tolling the bourdon bell at 12:55 EST
December 13 Santa Lucia Day (Scandinavia)
December 24 and 25 Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas Eve and Day)
December 26 St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr
December 28 The Holy Innocents
December 31 New Year’s Eve
January 1 Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ; New Year’s Day
January 6 Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ
First Sunday after Epiphany The Baptism of Christ
3rd Monday in January  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (also April 4)
February 2  Candlemas/Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ at the Temple
February 8  Charter Day of the College of William and Mary in Virginia
February 14 St. Valentine’s Day
February 12 Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday
3rd Monday in February George Washington’s Birthday (Observed)/George Washington Day
March 1  St. David, Bishop of Menevia (Wales)
March 17 St. Patrick, Bishop and Missionary of Ireland (Ireland National Day)
March 20 First Day of Spring
April 6 Tartan Day (Scottish Heritage in America
April 23    St. George (England) (or Monday after Easter Week )
2nd Sunday in May Mother’s Day
3rd Saturday in May  US Armed Forces Day
May 19 St. Dunstan of Canterbury (bell founders)
Last Monday in May Memorial Day (Observed)
May 30   Memorial Day (Traditional)
May 31 Visitation of Mary
3rd Sunday in June Father’s Day
June 14 Flag Day and US Army Day
June 20  First day of Summer
July 1 Canada Day
July 4  Independence Day
July 12 Battle of Boyne Anniversary (Northern Ireland)
July 14  Bastille Day/Le Fête Nationale (French National Day)
August 4 US Coast Guard Day
1st Monday in September   Labor Day
September 16 Mexican Independence Day
September 18   US Air Force Day
September 14 Holy Cross/Exaltation of the Cross
September 21 International Day Of Peace and St. Matthew
September 29 Michaelmas/St. Michael and All Angels
1stSunday in October World Communion Sunday
October 3 Day of German Unity/Tag der Deutschen Einheit (German National Holiday)
2nd Monday in October  Columbus Day (noon)
2nd Monday in October Yorktown Victory Day (6 pm)
October 13 US Navy Day
Last Sunday in October  Reformation Sunday
October 31 Reformation Day (noon)
October 31 All Hallows’ Eve (6 pm)
November 1 All Saints’ Day / All Hallows’
1st Sunday in November All Saints’ Sunday and SCC Anniversary
November 10 US Marine Corps Day
November 11 Veterans Day / Remembrance Day / Armistice Day
November 30  St. Andrew (Scotland)

The carillon celebrates other special seasons including the Olympics, visits by delegations from our sister cities of Suffolk, England and Oderzo, Italy, astronomical events, the change of seasons, parades, and anything else that seems appropriate or even humorous. It also tolls for funerals and peals for weddings. 

The Musicians

Most of the songs are recordings made by the Verdin Company. These are recordings of individual cast bells played that are played back to create songs recorded by Verdin’s musicians or at the church. Many have been added by the chimes master, Sean C. Bilby, and by other church musicians including pianist Carmen Halley, organist Mary Huber, and other members including Matthew Bradshaw. Musicians also play the carillon live using the keyboard. 

Previous Carillon Systems

Suffolk Christian Church had two previous electric carillon systems installed, both manufactured by Schulmerich Carillons, Inc. of Sellersville, Pennsylvania. The first was presented Christmas 1963 by Emmett H. Rawles in memory of his uncle, Judge Richard Henry Rawles (1830-1919). This system was innovative because in an electric unit, about the size of a short telephone booth, solenoids (metal hammers) struck tiny bronze bars to create barely audible notes. The unit amplified the sounds through speakers in the tower so that they imitated full-sized bronze bells. 

Emmett H. Rawles, Jr. gave a new electronic Schulmerich carillon in memory of Emmet H. Rawles and Katherine H. Rawles in 1993. This instrument used recordings of bell sounds rather than solenoids. It tolled the hours and played hymns at 9 am, noon, 3 pm, and 6 pm. Although the first instrument may have also had one, we know that the second carillon came equipped with a small keyboard and was occasionally played manually. A keyboard was once part of the organ console and a second amplifier and speaker in the organ pipe chamber allowed it to sound in the sanctuary. After the organ’s renovation in 2002, the keyboard became independent and was occasionally used at Christmas and after Sunday services. The speaker in the sanctuary is still operable and is used with the new instrument.

An electrical storm in April 2011 damaged the Schulmerich instrument beyond repair. Thanks to generous bequest by Annie Maude and Clarence "Red" Jones, we installed a new Verdin Singing Tower Supreme electronic carillon that first sounded Palm Sunday, April 1, 2012. This is the instrument that resounds every day in the Downtown Suffolk community.

A History of Carillons

For more on the history of carillons, visit the North American Guild of Carillonneurs website

Carillons and Similar Instruments in the Area

  • Bethlehem Christian Church, Suffolk (Verdin electronic)
  • Ebenezer United Methodist Church, Suffolk (Verdin electronic)
  • Liberty Spring Christian Church, Suffolk  (electronic)
  • Suffolk Presbyterian Church, Suffolk (electronic)
  • St. John's Episcopal Church, Portsmouth (Verdin electronic)
  • Trinity Episcopal, Portsmouth (Verdin electronic)
  • Freemason Street Baptist Church, Norfolk  (Meneely Bell Company 10-bell chime)
  • Memorial Church, Hampton University , Hampton (Meneely Bell Company 12-bell chime)
  • Chestnut Avenue United Methodist Church, Newport News (Deagan 16 tubular chimes)
  • Grace United Methodist Church, Newport News (J. C. Deagan 16 tubular chimes)
  • Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Newport News (Petit & Frsiten 10-bell chime)
  • Tower of Memories Fitzhugh Chapel, Peninsula Memorial Park , Newport News (J. C. Deagan 10 tubular chimes)
  • The War Memorial Carillon, Richmond  (John Taylor Bell Founders 53-bell carillon)

Here is an article that was written about the carillon in the Suffolk newspaper.