Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
Joy in Christ, a way of life

Change-Ringing Bells Arriving in Rochester

The autumn of 2015 will be the beginning of a new musical experience for Rochester. Ten bells hung for change ringing will be installed at Church of the Ascension on Lake Avenue, in the Maplewood neighborhood. The bells will ring on Sunday mornings to call the congregation to worship, and they may ring for special occasions (weddings, funerals, and celebrations). They will not ring tunes, they will ring changes — that is, permutations on the order of the bells. They are carefully and expertly tuned so that the sound they will make, while not a melody in the usual sense of the word, will be harmonious. The parish expects the bells to attract visitors, to both hear and ring them. The ringing chamber will be at ground level, in contrast to most other bell towers, thus making access very easy for the ringers and visitors.

A bell sounds when a person (trained in the art) pulls on a rope, which causes the bell, two levels above where the ringer is standing, to swing and therefore to sound. It takes one person per bell to ring them – these bells are not a keyboard instrument as are carillons and chimes.

The largest bell, weighing roughly half a ton, was cast in February; the next five smaller bells were cast in January; and the four smallest bells were cast in March, all at the Whitechapel Foundry, London, England. The bells were tuned, assembled in the frame for testing, disassembled, packed (with the frame) for shipping, and sent across the Atlantic. They have arrived at the Port of New York and will shortly be on their way to Rochester. We anticipate their arrival early next week at the latest. It will take some weeks of expert installation and testing before they are ready to ring out the joyous sound across the neighborhood. There will be a service and ceremony of dedication at a time to be announced.

The ringing of changes on church bells is an art that evolved over the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries in England. There are now over 5,000 such bell towers in England, in churches (usually Anglican) in cities, towns, and villages, and a few in town halls and other secular locations. In the U.S. and Canada, there are now more than 50 towers. The nearest one to Rochester is at St. James’ Cathedral in Toronto; it has twelve bells. There are two other towers in New York State: eight bells on the property of the Community of the Holy Spirit in Brewster, and twelve bells (the only twelve in the U.S.) at Trinity Church, Wall Street.