by Ted West  (January 2003)

Listen to the Chimes

When the young people and choir presented the Christmas musical, “Why the Chimes Rang”, this past December, I started to think about a parallel situation which we have here at Grace. I began to wonder about how many people in our congregation really know “Why Our Chimes Ring” every Sunday morning. I was particularly amazed when Pat Morrison recently mentioned to me that he didn’t even know we had an outdoor chime system – and he has been at Grace for almost six years. It has really been quite a low key operation, but I feel it is time to document the “history of the chimes” – it does not show up in our abbreviated version of the Grace United History which can be found in our 1996 photo directory.

It all began shortly after the arrival of Dr. Jim MacKenzie as our minister in 1965. The Christian Education Wing had been completed and a sound system had been installed in the gym section. Mrs. H. A. Hunter, Ena MacKenzie’s mother, worshipped with us quite often. She was a firm believer that a church should have an outdoor chime system and donated $200 to get the project started. This was enough to buy the 360 degree angle dispersion outdoor speaker which is still in operation, today, after almost 38 years.

I took on the project of designing a workable system using the recently installed P. A. amplifier in the gym. I built a framework out of TV antenna tubing mounted on a “temporary” hinged plywood frame . This was placed in the middle of the gym roof and weighted down with concrete slabs. Our goal was  to try this out and eventually make it a permanent installation. A phonograph turntable was added and a few chime LP records were donated to get us up and running. The system worked well but in the beginning everything was operated manually. I was the Grace Scoutmaster at the time and managed to convince some of our scouts to take on the project of turning the system on and off each Sunday morning. We operated it manually for about four years with the “temporary” platform in place.

About 1970, I acquired an eight- track audio recorder (new technology at that time) and proceeded to make taped chime sequences for use with the system. By this time, some of our LP records had developed scratches and we appealed for donations of some new recordings. As a result of this appeal our library increased to 14 – 33 1/3 LP’s. I installed an eight-track player with a series of timers to automate the system. At this time we added a dedicated amplifier. This system has been operating for 32 years using the same eight-track tapes made in 1970. The main problem with the system was the inability  to coordinate the timers with the taped selections so they didn’t start and stop in the middle of a hymn. Other minor problems were shorting out during poor weather conditions, vandals on the roof who cut the speaker wire, circuit breaker tripping (gym circuit #13) which cut off our power and some timer problems which allowed the chimes to ring at the wrong times. The one problem that I always feared might happen, but didn’t, was the possible collapse of the “temporary” platform on the gym roof.

When the new sanctuary was in the design stage, we had plans to have a tower and I thought this would have been a great place to relocate the chime speaker and get rid of the “temporary” platform. However, the tower was removed from the final design and the “temporary” platform remained. Finally with the replacement of the gym roof this past summer, the speaker structure has found a permanent attachment to the gym roof thanks to the Property Committee and the roof installers.

I was speaking to Bruce Ritchie from Central United about their system which had been operating on a setup much like ours. It had finally quit and he had set out to computerize it with apparent success. He steered me in the right direction and within a month I was able to completely change our output system. We had just upgraded Christine Jerrett’s office computer to a new model and I was able to use the old one, (original Windows main office computer), to run the chimes. I have re-recorded from the LP’s to computer files, ran them through an editing system to remove background noise and transferred them to CD’s. Each chime sequence is 11 to 13 minutes in length. This is the music you hear outdoors each Sunday morning between 9:45 and 10:00 a.m. Glenn Parsons recorded some Christmas midi chime files for us, and Duncan Bristow and I transferred them to wave files. We used this music this past Christmas. We are planning to do the same for Easter.

Besides the Sunday morning chimes, we also have a recording of the Westminster chimes and London, England Big Ben striking twelve o’clock, which plays each day at noon.