Delaware Symphony Orchestra rings in the holidays with large bell donation

This 1,200 lb. bell, just slightly smaller than the Liberty Bell, sits inside Delaware Symphony Orchestra music director David Amado's garage in Greenville, Delaware. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

This 1,200 lb. bell, just slightly smaller than the Liberty Bell, sits inside Delaware Symphony Orchestra music director David Amado's garage in Greenville, Delaware. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Seven bells used during various memorials to 9/11 victims have a new home with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. The bells which make up part of the Bells of Remembrance are temporarily being held inside DSO music director David Amado’s garage.

“It’s a wonderful gift to us as a musical institution,” Amado said during an interview in his garage in Greenville. “It’s a huge honor partly because of the genesis story of them.”

The collection of bells have rung out as part of tributes to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and they were rung in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at this year’s Flight 93 memorial event.

Brother David Schlatter shakes hands with DSO music director David Amado after delivering seven bells for the orchestra to use. (DSO photo)

The bell collection effort was led by Brother David Schlatter, a Franciscan Friar who was based in Wilmington in 2001. His mentor in the faith was Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. Judge was the first certified fatality of the 9/11 attacks.

Recently, Schlatter has been overseeing the donation of other bells from the Bells of Remembrance collection to permanent homes. Last year, four bells were delivered to be part of a memorial to honor the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. Two bells were also given to the Flight 93 National Memorial.

In Delaware, the bells will become part of the DSO’s performances when their musical selections call for bells. “There are not a huge number of pieces that require bells, but when you need a bell, you need a bell,” Amado said.  “I was lobbying the board of the Delaware Symphony to use them no matter what we were playing. Vivaldi? It doesn’t matter, just bring out the bells and hit them,” Amado said, laughing.

Orchestras will typically use tubular bells or chimes in place of bells, but Amado says their sound doesn’t compare, “It’s not the real thing, here we’ve got the real thing, and that’s pretty extraordinary to hear.”

The biggest of the bells weighs in at 1,200 pounds and is 42 inches in diameter pitched to play a G note. That makes it slightly smaller than Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, which weighs 2,080 pounds and is about 46 inches in diameter. The collection also includes a 550 pound, 30.5-inch diameter bell pitched to play a C.

Standing next to the big bell as it’s rung in Amado’s garage is a bit overwhelming on the ears. Amado said the bells were rung as part of Wilmington’s Fourth of July festivities last year for the “1812 Overture.” He said the sound was so loud, those ringing the bells weren’t able to hear the rest of the orchestra once the bells started ringing.

“It’s not even the loudness,” Amado said of what makes the bells special. “It’s the sense of authenticity, it doesn’t [just] sound like a bell, it is a bell.”

Amado said the bells are a great symbol of the health and future of the DSO. The orchestra faced turbulent times in 2012 as the poor economy and a reduced subscriber base threatened to shut down the group’s 2012-13 season. “The Delaware Symphony really has sort of been reborn out of all that, and we’re doing great, we’re selling lots of tickets, we’re playing great music, the orchestra sounds terrific,” Amado said. “Having these bells now gifted to the Delaware Symphony is a wonderful metaphor for the progress we’ve made, something to toot your own horn or ring your bell about.”

DSO leaders are now looking for a permanent storage space and a trailer to transport them. In the meantime, the bells will stay at Amado’s garage. DSO executive director Alan Jordan said the bells will be made available for other organizations, “as long as we can work out the insurance and transportation details. Moving a 1,200-pound bell cannot be left to UPS.”

The orchestra’s longtime principal percussionist William Kerrigan worked with Schlatter to coordinate the donation and, in honor of that work, the bells will be renamed the William Kerrigan Symphony Bells of Remembrance.”

It’s not clear when the orchestra will first use the bells in concert. The next DSO performance is scheduled for January 25 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

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