A several ton gift by a Catholic religious order will distinguish the Delaware Symphony Orchestra as the only American orchestra to have such a collection of musical instruments.
The gift arrived in the form of seven large bells donated by the Franciscans, each with specific pitches corresponding to requirements for certain musical works in the traditional symphonic canon.
“This is such an amazing and unique gift by The Franciscans, and something that sets apart the Delaware Symphony from, pretty much, any other U. S. Orchestra,” said DSO Executive Director Alan Jordan.
The bells, to be called the William Kerrigan Symphony Bells of Remembrance in honor of Kerrigan, the long-time Principal Percussionist of the DSO, who worked with Franciscan Brother David Schlatter to identify and secure the seven pitched bells.
“Bill was the one who really got the relationship going between the Symphony and the Bells of Remembrance sometime after 2003,” said Brother David.
The Franciscan’s collection of bells grew to more than 20 in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The first victim of those attacks was Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan Friar who was chaplain for the New York City Fire Department.
Judge was also a mentor for Brother David, who was based in Wilmington at the time and spearheaded the Bells of Remembrance effort.
Over the years the Bells have been featured at events commemorating 9-11, fallen armed service men and women, firefighters, police officers, and other victims. More recently, Brother David has been overseeing the donation of bells for permanent placement, including four “Bells of Consolation,” delivered to a memorial honoring the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT, and two bells gifted to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shankesville, PA.
DSO Music Director David Amado noted the musical importance of the instruments. “Most orchestras resort to tubular bells, or chimes, in performances that call for these bells, but the sound is notional, at best,” he said. “When the DSO performs with these bells, audiences will hear exactly what the composer intended.”
The DSO said while they are exploring a permanent storage space for the bells, the new collection will be stored in the garage of David Amado’s home in Wilmington.
In addition to using the bells when specifically called for in repertoire, they will be featured during other DSO performances, including outdoor concerts such as the City of Wilmington’s July Fourth concert.
Last summer, honorary bell ringers including the Mayor and Police and Fire Chiefs of Wilmington, philanthropist Tatiana Copeland, the Retired Adjutant General of the Delaware National Guard, and Star Wars characters Darth Vader and Boba Fett rang the bells during the finale of the 1812 Overture at the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park concert.
The two largest bells, a 1,200 pound, 42-inch diameter bell pitched at G, and a 550 pound, 30-1/2-inch diameter bell pitched at C, are nicknamed the Berlioz bells, as they are used in the final movement of Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz. Other popular works that require bells in this collection include Pictures at an Exhibition and Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky.
“We will work to make these bells available for other organizations, too,” said the DSO’s Jordan. “As long as we can work out the insurance and transportation details. Moving a 1,200-pound bell cannot be left to U. P. S.!”