On Labor Day weekend 2020, the seven bells of the Leaning Tower of Niles began ringing again, after decades of silence. With seven notes of a major scale, absent the sixth scale degree, we had to do some digging to find suitable tunes that would be recognizable, pleasant, and multi-cultural. In the end, we programmed the bells to play American folk songs, jazz standards, American patriotic tunes, one tune from an American musical/film (Sound of Music), one Korean folk song, and a smattering of new compositions by me.
Here’s part of “Blue Skies,” video courtesy of Katie Schneider at the Village of Niles.
I was delighted that one of the most famous and beloved folk songs for Korea, “Arirang,” sounded beautiful on the Niles bells. The village saw the tower as a renewed multi-cultural site, so it was important to have selections that spoke to their different ethnic groups, and Niles has a significant Korean population. Alas, I do not have a recording of that to share with you!
I relished the opportunity to compose new tunes for Niles that would serve as their own unique melodies. I sought to compose melodies in different tempi and styles to be used for different occasions, such as solemn commemorations or wedding celebrations. I even composed their own clock-chime melodies, which they use to mark 15-minute intervals, rather than the ubiquitous Westminster Chimes. Here’s the first composition I wrote for their bells, almost a moderate-tempo dance.