Ford Chapel Instrument Chimes in With New Sounds on Allegheny Campus

Junior music major Jacob Sutter drops his coat and backpack in a pew in the balcony of Ford Memorial Chapel on a chilly December morning and fires up the small keyboard in front of him. Soon the strains of the “Bell Tree Peal” are resounding across the Allegheny College campus.

That’s followed by “Be Thou My Vision,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Ode to Joy,” “Sweet and Low,” “Imagine,” “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and, of course, “Alma Mater Beatissima.”

The 100-year-old Crawford Chimes, a 14-note set of Deagan tower chimes in Ford Chapel, were refurbished in the fall of 2018, and now the sounds of music ring across campus several days a week, thanks to Sutter, who also plays the piano during religious services at the chapel.

Sutter, who is a computer science minor from Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, has the task of playing the Crawford Chimes. “I usually play for about 15 minutes,” he says. He blends traditional hymns with modern popular music. The keys on the keyboard correspond to the 14 chimes in the belfry.

Not to be confused, the music coming from the Crawford Chimes is a sonorous complement to the Bentley Hall Carillon that sounds on the hour.

In October, Bill Pugh, a technician from Tennessee, came to Allegheny to service the chimes, which were installed in Ford Chapel in September 1918, a gift from alumni to mark the 25th year of William Crawford’s presidency. “I last serviced this historic instrument in 1997. Oh, how time flies! At that time, I reconnected the keyboard because the wires had been cut accidentally. I was unable to service all 14 strikers due to pigeon debris in the chime loft,” Pugh says.

College Chaplain Jane Ellen Nickell said Pugh was a little reluctant to return to the tower this year, but a pre-visit inspection showed there was not a mess in the tower, which cleared the way for Pugh’s work.

Pugh shares some history about the Deagan company and the chimes: “The J.C. Deagan Company of Chicago was known as the world’s finest manufacturer of tuned percussions. Tower chimes were their biggest product, and some 440 instruments were built between 1917 and 1958. They ranged in size from one to 97 chimes — a library in Minnesota and a state park in Florida, respectively. The Ford Chapel instrument is the oldest surviving system and is 100 years old. I do hope that Allegheny celebrates this milestone.”

“They are the oldest intact in the country since most have been removed or updated to electronic systems,” says Nickell. “We will be playing them several times a week and on special occasions, like our Christmas Service, Commencement, and Reunion Weekend. If Jacob doesn’t stay during the summer, I will find another student or play them myself.”

Photo Caption: The Crawford Chimes as they look from inside the Ford Chapel tower looking toward Pelletier Library (Photo by Jane Ellen Nickell)

Source: Academics, Publications & Research