In-Spired Music

Last Friday, I walked out of the downtown salon where I get my monthly haircut to the makings of a beautiful late winter afternoon. A few cars motored by on the street, yet nobody blared the horn or blasted the radio. Pedestrians kept their conversations to a low tone.  Songbirds made melody, willing the next season to an early debut.  Above all (literally), the nearby Methodist church bells rang out the hour of the day from the steeple, followed by a cheerful rendition of… “The First Noel”?

Found the culprit on Google Street View!

Last time I checked Christmas was well over two months ago.  Decorations are boxed and returned to the closet, lights are taken down, and Starbucks no longer offers my seasonal favorite Chestnut Praline Latte.  Yet here I was, a block from a downtown church in March, with happy steeple bells daring me to burst into Christmas song. 

Talk about a case of bats in the belfry.  You think I’d pause for such a strange moment.  Instead, I simply took in this carol of the bells with a smile, got behind the wheel, and went on my “merry” way.

So it is with church bells, especially the ones in steeples big enough to broadcast their melodies for miles around.  I find church bells comforting, so much so they can play anything they choose and I’ll be happy to listen.  Even a tune that sounds so three-months-ago.

The church I grew up in, on the far west side of Los Angeles, had a tall steeple with bells.  If you pulled up to the parking lot within ten minutes of the start of the service, the bells were making music.  More importantly, they were telling you (as they’ve done for centuries in older churches) it’s time to get yourself inside for worship, buddy.  I didn’t watch every episode of Little House on the Prarie but I watched enough to remember the steeple bells summoning the people of the small town to church.  Believe me, you didn’t want to be the last parishioner in Walnut Grove to pass through the sanctuary doors, earning a steely-eyed stare-down from Rev. Alden.

Here’s another memory from childhood church.  In “Sunday School” they taught us how to lace our fingers together, tips pointing down, palms face-to-face below, and thumbs side-by-side in front.

Church! Steeple! Doors! PEOPLE!

[Go ahead, I’ll wait while you make your little “church”.]

Then you’d look at your hands and say, “Here’s the church…” (now raise your two index fingers into a point), “Here’s the steeple…”, (now separate your thumbs a bit), “Open the doors…”, (now flip your hands over and wiggle your fingertips), “… and see all the people!”  That little ditty was clever enough to recollect all these years later, the moment I heard “The First Noel” from the downtown steeple.

At least in America, the appeal – ha – of steeple bells is probably because you don’t hear them all that often (unless your neighbor is a church).  Most modern churches can only afford the structure of the steeple, not the complicated mechanism of the bells within.  Just like train crossings, today’s “bells” are often an electronic equivalent, and so realistic you can’t tell the difference.  But you can with steeples.  If the church was built in the last fifty years, the steeple bells probably don’t ring true (ha again).

Charleston, South Carolina is known as the Holy City because you’ll find over four hundred churches in its rather compact downtown streets.  You can’t look in any direction in Charleston without seeing a steeple, and many of them are hundreds of years old.  That means bells; hundreds and hundreds of bells.  Take a walk in Charleston on a Sunday morning and you’ll be “treated” to the overlapping competition of steeple bells.  They’re summoning you to church, of course (but which one, exactly?)

The Sound of Music has a brief but charming steeple scene in the movie, just before or after Maria weds Captain von Trapp at Mondsee Abbey.  The camera points to the very top of a steeple, where the abbey bells are visible just below the cupola.  In the era of the story, steeple bells were rung by hand.  In this scene, the “ringer-boy” is shown holding on for dear life as he clings to a rope, the weight of the bell dragging him up and down like a pogo stick.  The moment always makes me laugh.

One of these days you’ll be walking down the streets of your own town and church bells will ring.  Stop for a second and give them a listen.  You’ll probably hear a melodic hymn.  You might even be gifted with an “unseasonal” Christmas carol.  Doesn’t really matter.  Those big, happy bells make beautiful music no matter the tune.


Lego Grand Piano – Update #9

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

We are closing in the piano’s insides now, as you can see by the almost complete black frame in both photos. Bag #9 – of 21 bags of pieces – contained a good chunk of the frame curves, including the graceful “S” you can see just beyond the right side of the (future) keyboard.

Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was just about the perfect length for today’s build, with a couple of hold-your-breath moments where pieces from previous builds snapped off and skittered away. They’re back where they belong now,

Running Build Time: 7.5 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G-Minor. Leftover pieces: 2 (tiny unnecessary extras for the frame).

Conductor’s Note: We have a hinged trap door built into the frame now, for access to the battery pack and on/off switch.  When it’s closed, the frame is seamless and you’d never know the door was there.  They have clever people at Lego.

32 thoughts on “In-Spired Music

  1. I love the sound of church bells since they bring back fond memories of my grandfather’s grandfather clock playing a tune then chiming the hour. The chapel on the campus of my daughter’s current college does that and it’s somehow very soothing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I forgot about colleges and universities, Margaret. Their steeples and bells seem almost as common as those in churches. Makes a campus seem somehow classier.


    1. That’s it, Ally, the past with the future thing. Today’s young people wouldn’t have the same appreciation, not that I blame them. Makes me feel lucky to be a baby-boomer.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Dave,
    Awesome memories here. I use to love Little House on The Prairie. In Brazil it was called “Os Pioneiros”.
    That piano is looking amazing. I can’t wait for it to be finished, so you can make a video playing on it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A lovely post. And informative — I didn’t know about Charleston’s churches. I am immensely lucky because I live three houses down from a church whose bells (well, maybe they’re electronic bells, but they sound like the real thing) peal often during the day. Our dog loves to listen to them and begs to go outside when they begin to ring so he can hear them better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think a steeple makes a town seem quaint, no matter real or electronic bells. I always think of some village in Europe when I see one. Charleston is quaint even if you take away its many steeples. Colorado Springs is growing way too fast but at least the downtown area still feels small-town.


  4. There is a church on our block that we can hear the bells playing, it’s a nice sound and not obnoxious bells. We are hoping to go to Austria at the end of the summer and if we can go, I’m defiantly bringing Jon on a Sound of Music tour as cheesy as it might be. Also, that piano sure looks complex!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know if you meant “defiantly” or “definitely” but no matter; drag Jon if you have to! I don’t think I appreciated “The Sound of Music” enough before my college year abroad to think to include the Austria tour. I’ll bet that’ll be an awesome opportunity for your camera skills. Maybe you can find the mountainside meadow where Maria spins to “The Hills are Alive…” and recreate the scene?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha I suppose either word could apply 😂 I had The Sound of Music CD and listened to the songs a lot as a kid. I have planned to spend a lot of time in the Bavarian Alps so I can definitely recreate the scene 😁 I’ll have to buy an extra camera battery!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Now that you’ve mentioned it it’s been years since I’ve heard any church bells ring in my small town? It was my great uncle Leo’s job to ring the church bell by hand and another great ancestor Jennie helped raise the most money for the bell so her name is inscribed on it, along with two other girls, and the date 1905. Church bells are soothing, unless they are too close and you are trying to sleep in!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes I wish I was raised in a small town like you, Joni, so I would have stories like this. Our side of Los Angeles was wholly urban by comparison. At least our church had a steeple, and real bells.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not many people today can say they still live in the area where they grew up, especially if you went away for school, but I moved back here from Toronto for a job and stayed. It felt like home to me, and still does. We are close to a Great Lake with beautiful beaches, and housing prices are for the most part cheaper, although they are creeping up here too. That’s not to say that I couldn’t live elsewhere, like a villa in Italy, which will be the subject of next week’s blog!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. The church around the corner from me has bells pealing for 11:00 a.m. services every Sunday and they have done that since we moved here in 1966. I like the sound too Dave. My neighbor had a set of silver bells she bought for Christmastime several years ago. Each bell hung from a short post and they were strung together and there was a sensor, so if someone walked by or the wind blew, the bells would play Christmas songs (just instrumental), all the well-known Christmas carols. It was peaceful. The West Mound church at Heritage Park, where I often walk, is being refurbished after a massive fire nearly destroyed it in November 2020. The church was built in 1892 and yesterday, contractors took the steeple/spire down to repair the roof. I remember that little verse and did it plenty of times. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your neighbor’s set of silver bells reminded me of a set we used to have for the Christmas tree itself. You strung them around the tree and they played Christmas carols. A little technical marvel. Not sure why we got rid of them but I’ll have to look for another set. We don’t have steeple bells anywhere near us so I guess something smaller will have to do!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope you find those bells Dave. I don’t know why my neighbor stopped putting them out. I really enjoyed hearing them. When I worked on site at Stroh River Place, we had carillon bells in the courtyard and they played Christmas carols and it was so peaceful.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Great topic. I love the sound of church bells too. I remember being on a train in Germany, dozing off as we do on a train… suddenly, I heard church bells as we were making a stop at a town. I immediately perked up, looked out the window to see the most beautiful church steeple. I smiled the rest of my journey! There is something soothing about church bells.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t think of any setting in America to rival a small town in Europe with church steeple and bells. Perhaps somewhere in New England? Pulling into a German town on the train, waking up to steeple bells, almost sounds like a real-life fairy tale.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Is this how I receive your blog posts?
    I could not find a traditional ‘subscribe’ button. This is where someone young says ”Boomer!”
    I just happened upon your articles while looking up restaurants and places that I grew up with while living in California in the 70s and 80s. We now live in NC.
    I love your content..old with the new, words, photographs, objects around the house. We’re going thru our house currently… trying to purge 20+ years of stuff. It’s getting me to ‘wax poetic’ too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Cindy. Thank you for finding Life In A Word. You can subscribe to my blog by entering your email address in the box on the right side of the page (below “Blogs I Follow”) and then you’ll receive a notification for every new post. Glad to know another California boomer!


  9. How exciting to see the piano taking shape, so intricate! Soon you’ll be playing your own classical pieces on it, with toothpicks? I’m hoping the carols you are hearing are not just in early anticipation of this year’s holiday.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I never considered this year’s holiday with that carol of the bells, Ruth. The season DOES seem to start earlier each year, ha. And yes, my fingers are too big for a performance on the piano (though I won’t know for sure until I build the keys). Maybe I should grow long, pointy nails?


  11. Today I’ll be a conformist and join in the church bell love. Our Catholic parish has one of the ugly church buildings built in the mid 70s, but about 20 years ago we had a priest who insisted on church bells. They are electronic but sound good.

    Now I’m able to recognize a piano in your collection of assembled Lego pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. We have a train crossing near our family’s summer house in San Diego which sounded mechanical bells all of my childhood. I had a hard time adjusting several years back when they switched to an electronic equivalent. Realistic, but not the same.



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