Ringing in Christmas

49-bell carillon played at midnight Christmas Eve

49-bell carillon played at midnight Christmas Eve

December 21, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - In keeping with tradition, Mercersburg Academy will host two midnight carillon concerts: one on Christmas Eve and one on New Year's Eve.

Guest artist Julia Littleton will perform Christmas Eve; guest artist Charles Farris will perform New Year's Eve.

The shows at the academy's chapel are free and last about 95 minutes. Visitors are allowed to climb the tower to watch the carillonneurs play.

This year marks the first time in 22 years that James Smith, the school's official carillonneur, will not be performing at the Christmas Eve show. Due to a medical condition, Smith will be unable to play this year. He plans to return to the carillon possibly as soon as the end of January.

For years, Smith has climbed the 70 steps of Barker Tower to reach the school's 49-bell carillon. He became the resident carillonneur in 1984.


The carillon at Mercersburg Academy is played at least four times a week - twice on Sunday and twice during the school week, school officials said.

Smith said Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia's take on "Teddy Bears' Picnic" is the most "infamous" song he's ever played on the carillon and is still the most requested.

Julia Littleton, an artist and freelance writer from the Washington, D.C., area, has been gearing up for her show for months, Smith said. Littleton performed at the school back in September.

Charles Farris said he's been playing the New Year's Eve concert for at least 15 years. He said he plans to play Christmas tunes at the New Year's concert and will likely end with "Auld Lang Syne."

Mercersburg's carillon dates back to 1926 and is one of 165 carillons - with only two of them in Maryland - still operating in the U.S., according to the World List of Carillons online. Of the two Maryland carillons listed, the 49-bell carillon at Baker Park in Frederick, Md., is nearest to Hagerstown. The other is in Owings Mills, Md. There are three carillons in Washington.

The Web site also lists 13 carillons in Pennsylvania and none in West Virginia. The Mercersburg carillon is the only Pennsylvania carillon less a two-hour drive from Hagerstown.

"We wonder if the (Mercersburg Academy students) really know what they have," said Jim Brinson, Mercersburg Academy's organist, choir director and right-hand man to Smith. "They probably do - once they leave."

If you go...

WHAT: Midnight carillon concerts

WHEN: Midnight Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve

WHERE: Mercersburg Academy, 300 E. Seminary St., Mercersburg, Pa.

COST: Free

MORE: Those willing to make the 70-step trek up Barker Tower can watch the carillonneur perform. For more information, contact Mercersburg Academy by calling 717-328-6176.

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