FACTS ABOUT THE TOWER BELL FOUNDATION

and its activities

BELL CONCERTS

WHO

The foundation is a group of community members concerned about the condition and use of the bells. Some of the members are professional musicians; others are former officeholders. A few are simply concerned citizens.

The foundation uses a team of volunteers and also some of the finest pianists in the city to play the bells.

The summer concerts are sponsored by downtown businesses. In a typical year, we have more than a dozen business cosponsors. The patriotic concerts are sponsored by the James Ballentine VFW Club. Some of the other sponsors we have worked with in the past include the Minneapolis Central Labor Union for Labor Day and the Sons of Norway for Syttende Mai.

WHAT

The foundation produces a schedule of about 58 concerts per year. Half of these are the summer pops series, a noontime program of popular music every Friday from May through September. The foundation also has concerts on patriotic and religious holidays. Occasionally, the foundation participates in ceremonies held in the Rotunda of the Municipal Building.

WHEN

All concerts are from noon to 1:00 p.m., except Easter Sunday, which is from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m.; Good Friday and Christmas Eve, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., and New Year's, from 11:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

WHERE

All concerts are held on the historic bells of Minneapolis City Hall and Hennepin County Courthouse. The sound can be heard over a good portion of downtown Minneapolis, chiefly where the tower can be seen. Some prime listening locations are the north plaza of the Hennepin County Government Center, the park opposite the Star Tribune, the plaza of the Federal Courts Building, and the front lawn of the Public Service Center. The sound is also piped into the Rotunda of the building, where the player sits.

WHY

The foundation noted the relative little use of the bells and proposed concerts as a good use of the instrument. We started with one concert in May 1990. Following that success, we decided to hold three more concerts that year. Since the Municipal Building Commission had recently eliminated the traditional concerts, the foundation decided to take over production of those as well, beginning in December 1990. In 1991, the foundation held its first series of regular Friday concerts. In 1993, the foundation was incorporated and produced its first comprehensive schedule of 41 concerts. It seems that were it not for our efforts, the bells would sit idle.

HOW

The foundation relies on volunteer labor and contributions from the community to carry out its concert schedule. The foundation has no paid staff and receives no public funds.

CHIME RENOVATION

WHO

The foundation is a group of community members concerned about the condition and use of the bells. Some of the members are professional musicians; others are retired officeholders. A few are simply concerned citizens.

The foundation proposes hiring some of the finest campanologists (bell experts) in the world to fix the bells, bring them up to modern tuning standards, and if that is successful, to manufacture additional bells.

WHAT

The foundation would like to raise funds for and oversee the renovation of the bells. The bells are considerably out of tune and are held in place by deteriorating hardware. As a long-range goal, the foundation would like to see the bells built into a larger instrument, complete with a return to manual playing.

WHEN

The foundation proposes to raise funds for the tuning of the bells immediately. The tuning would take place as soon as adequate funds were raised. Following an evaluation of the tuning, the foundation would then decide whether to raise funds for the completion of the chime, or simply for a renovation of the existing set of bells.

WHERE

Tuning of the bells could take place in Massachusetts or at one of two sites in Ohio. Casting of the new bells could be done in Britain, France, or the Netherlands, or perhaps at the only bell foundry in the United States, in Ohio.

WHY

The bells are noticeably out of tune. This detracts greatly from the musicality of the instrument. The bell frame, bolts, clappers, and headpieces are all old enough that they are deteriorating, possibly enough to damage the bells. The bells have a limited range of 15 notes. This makes it nearly impossible to play anything other than simple song melodies. The addition of new bells would make it possible to play classical music, jazz, traditional Jewish songs, and a broader range of the traditional and popular music currently played on the bells. The foundation would like to add perhaps as many bells as would make this instrument the largest chime in the world. Such a development would greatly enhance the stature of the Municipal Building and would contribute to the prominence of downtown Minneapolis as a national cultural center.

HOW

Bells are tuned by using a boring mill to scrape out bits of metal at key points along the bell wall in order to alter the tone. Since each bell produces five distinct sounds, it is important that tuning be done in a consistent manner so that all five sounds are retuned at the same time. The foundation proposes to raise funds for and oversee the removal of the bells from the tower, their transportation to Cincinnati or Massachusetts, the actual tuning, return transportation, storage, and reinstallation in the tower.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

What about the separation of church and state? The foundation believes that since more than 80% of the concerts are secular in nature, approval of our concert schedule by the Municipal Building Commission does not violate the doctrine of separation. The foundation itself is not a government agency. The religious concerts reflect multiple religious traditions.

Why are the bells out of tune? The bells have never been in tune. Fourteen of them were cast by the Meneely company of Troy, N.Y. , a firm which never learned to tune its bells. They simply cast their bells to an approximate tuning standard. Most other founders had long since cast their bells to more precise standards. Modern methods make it possible to bring our historic bells up to contemporary standards.

What if the tuning is not a success? We know that the tuning will greatly improve the sound quality of the bells. However, it is not possible to know if the tone will be improved sufficiently to permit addition of new bells to the instrument. The foundation will evaluate the sound after the tuning is completed and then make a decision whether or not to proceed with expanding the bells into a larger instrument. If the tuning is not a success, the foundation will proceed with renovation of the existing bell structure and reinstall the newly-tuned bells in the belfry.

What will the bell renovation cost? That depends on what the foundation chooses from the proposals of the various bell foundries. The tuning process will likely cost approximately $60,000. Construction of a large chime will take the total pricetag closer to $500,000. The cost could vary depending on the number of new bells and the inclusion of optional features in the design. The foundation's expectation is that the cost will be in the range of $400,000 to $700,000.

Can the tower hold more bells? There is no reason to believe it couldn't. The existing bells weigh 30,000 pounds. If 43 new bells were added (one of the bellfounders' proposals), their total weight would be only 5,000 pounds, since the new bells would be higher in pitch and therefore smaller than the existing bells. Since the tower is made of solid granite, it does not appear that the increased load would cause a problem. The foundation expects to retain a structural engineer to give a definitive answer to the question if the decision to proceed with addition of new bells is made. Also, there is plenty of room in the belfry for new bells.

Who would play the enhanced chime? The foundation hopes that the people who play the bells now would learn to play the manual chime. The foundation would also like to recruit interested community members and music students to learn the bells, possibly recruiting a teacher or offering scholarships to a chime school. The foundation would also like to occasionally host visiting artists from other bell installations in the world.

No bell installation in the United States is in as prime an urban setting as the Minneapolis City Hall chime. With every playing, the chime is heard not only by people who sought the experience, but also by thousands of people downtown who would hear the music as part of the environment.

For further information contact:

Tower Bell Foundation
B27 City Hall
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415
(612) 673-5311
fax: (612) 465-2416

Return to the the home page of the Tower Bell Foundation