Video: Eighteen tons of music, the bells of St. Peter’s in Morristown

john dyer
John Dyer, carillonneur at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

It began with a single two-ton bell, donated by the widow McVickar in 1923.

Today there are 49 bells in the carillon at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, and you can hear them at 4 p.m. in a free concert by guest carillonneur Lisa Lonie.

On most Sundays, the honors are handled quite capably by John Dyer.

In winter, when it’s not hot, the 76-year-old retired chemist will make four climbs up the 100 steps to the playing cabin, in the bell tower just below the belfry, to play for church services.

john dyer
John Dyer, carillonneur at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The cabin walls are decorated with painted scenes of worship and of hills and meadows in England, the native country of the late Ernest Parsons, carillonneur at St. Peter’s from 1929 to 1956.

John learned piano as a child. The training was helpful–in theory, at least. John says the pedals of the bell clavier are arrayed differently than a piano keyboard, and the tonal qualities of the bells make it virtually impossible to play traditional chords.

The notes ring out so long–a characteristic called “hum”–that adding too many extra ones would result in aural confusion, he explained.

As it is, things can get pretty loud in the bell tower when 18 tons of iron bronze chime into action. John wears ear protection, although his hearing already gives him some trouble. He insists the bells are blameless; he reveals the likely suspect in this video.

Even if the bells were to blame, however, it would be hard to dislodge John from his Sunday perch above South Street.

After his retirement, John and his wife could have relocated to warmer climes.

“We decided to stay in the area,” he said from the belfry, “because I get the privilege of coming up here to play.”

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  1. What a nice little piece! And I loved the artful framing and light on the scenes of the bells. And John Dyer is charming.

  2. Great mini documentary on the carillon. Great footage,
    snappily edited, John Dyer is an excellent narrator. Look out Ken Burns!.