Albert McDaniel, a trustee at Henderson Memorial Baptist Church in Farmington, holds the song book for the church’s carillon bells, which play music of all types twice a day for all to hear in downtown Farmington. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — When I moved to Farmington, it took me a few weeks to notice the church bells that serenade downtown twice a day.

I was sitting on my fire escape at noon one fall afternoon when the bells began to play. It was the first time I paid proper attention. The notes of Offenbach’s “Barcarolle,” from the opera “The Tales of Hoffman” — one of my favorite classical pieces since childhood — rang through the air.

I was overjoyed to hear this tune through the bells. I was also confused. Was this a one-off occurrence?

I soon learned it was no random event. Henderson Memorial Baptist Church at 110 Academy St. in downtown Farmington projects music twice daily — noon and 5 p.m. — from church bells inside its bell tower.

Those daily tolls quickly became my favorite parts of the day. I would make sure I was outside at noon and 5 p.m. to listen. If I was walking around at that time, I would stop and take the music in. I made sure any friends visiting me had opportunity to hear the bells. Once winter weather hit, I began opening a window for those 10 minutes the bells fill the air — don’t tell my landlord.

While it deepened my love for the town of Farmington, it also raised a lot of questions: How long had this been going on? How is the music played? How does the church select the songs?


And, most important, does everyone appreciate the bells? Or are they merely background noise for residents who have lived here far longer than I?

The questions remained unanswered and my local friends seemed somewhat ambivalent. So I decided to use my privilege as a journalist always searching for a story to learn much more about the bells.

The music is not actually from bells atop the Henderson Memorial Baptist Church tower. Rather, they come from an electronic carillon installed on the tower, according to Jack Anderson, who has been a church member since 1968 and used to run and work on the carillon.

The Henderson Memorial Baptist Church’s carillon bells have been serenading downtown Farmington since 1959. Church member Jack Anderson says the bells contribute to Farmington’s identity as a “Norman Rockwell town.” Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

The carillon was installed on Psalm Sunday in 1959, a gift from the Luce family to memorialize Irene Luce.

Anderson said the system originally worked with piano rolls, then 8-track tapes. Today, the church uses a digital system from Chime Master, an Ohio company, for the carillon and its music, funded by a “hymn sing” in 2003, according to Anderson.

Anderson and church trustee Albert McDaniel (a self-described “tech expert” explained to me the inner workings of carillons past and present. They involve vacuum tubes, frequency rods, internal clocks, speaker systems and, eventually, many repairs.


While I did not fully comprehend the technicalities, one thing became clear: Much care and love have gone into the Henderson Memorial Baptist Church carillon over the years.

“Our congregation holds (the carillon) in high regard,” Anderson said.

The Chime Master system offers thousands of songs, including psalms, classic pieces, Christmas music, folk tunes and much more.

Everything from “Ave Maria” and Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Today, the music selections are overseen by Dan Woodward, the organist and music director at Henderson Memorial Baptist Church.

I was curious to find out how Woodward selected the music played each day.


Woodward said he plays hymns most often. However, he occasionally likes to throw in non-church music, to which townspeople often react when they recognize a tune.

“Some people would ignore all the stuff that isn’t hymns and I don’t do that,” Woodward said. “I like to hear that on the bells.”

Amid the pandemic Woodward still kept the bells going.

His favorite piece to queue up is Georges Bizet’s “Habanera” from the opera Carmen. If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll certainly recognize the iconic tune.

In mid December, McDaniel invited me to Henderson Memorial and brought me up to the bell tower. It requires ascending a rickety wooden ladder that I was warned can slide out of place. But it was well worth it to see a bird’s eye view of downtown Farmington I’d yet to discover.

Staff writer Kay Neufeld smiles in January after the carillon performance of “Liebestraum No. 3 in A-Flat Major,” by Franz Liszt, outside Henderson Memorial Baptist Church in downtown Farmington. Charmed by the music she hears twice a day, Neufeld sought to learn more about the church bells. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

Atop the tower are four large speakers, the carillon. The carillon surrounds the church’s actual bell, which McDaniel let me ring, though not too many times, otherwise someone might think “the British are coming.”


McDaniel said it was a privilege to be on the tower.

“People rarely come up here,” he said.

McDaniel then brought me to the backroom behind the altar, where the Chime Master system sits, surrounded by bouquets of fake flowers and props.

There was also a songbook, which I read through to check out all of the selections.

I flipped through and was shocked to see Franz Liszt’s “Liebestraum No. 3 in A-Flat Major.” “Liebestraum” is my absolute favorite classic piece – a musical adaptation of a German poem about “love and the loss of love.”

The song begins softly, gradually crescendos [swells], climaxes and then soon falls off to a soft, melancholic finish. It’s all at once grandiose and forceful, gentle, loving and somber — leaving the listener with bittersweet emotion.


If you are in the mood to give it a listen, my favorite performance of “Liebestraum” is by Lang Lang off his album “Liszt — My Piano Hero.”

I quickly wrote in my notepad that I must ask Woodward to have the bells play it in the near future.

After my tour, I parked on a University of Maine at Farmington stoop across the street to listen to the noon show up close. I was delighted to hear “Barcarolle” play once again – a few weeks since I had last heard it.

Amid my investigation, I think I was most happy to learn that I’m not the only one enjoying these bells each day.

Anderson said it fits in with his perception of Farmington as a “Norman Rockwell town.”

“We still hold on to some of the old values,” he said.


For life long Farmington residents, the bells have always been there. But that doesn’t mean they go unnoticed and unappreciated.

Anderson said the chiming of the bells informs him it is time to head home.

Jessica Casey, director of the Farmington Public Library, whose workplace is adjacent to Henderson Memorial Baptist Church, said the carillon music is a nice reminder each day of Farmington’s traditions.

Woodward said, once a local artist asked that he queue up specific songs so she could do a performance art piece on the church’s front lawn. That was a fun reminder of how the bells are appreciated, he said.

Sherry Wyman, the administrative assistant at Henderson Memorial Baptist Church, said she loves the bells for how “unique” they make Farmington. They did not have this kind of special element at the southern Maine town where Wyman was raised, she said.

That is not to say the bells do not eventually blend in with the monotony of daily life.


Woodward said he, at times, has also found himself “taking (the bells) for granted.”

“And then you hear somebody from outside of your normal day to day life telling you how much it means to them,” Woodward said. “I only get positive comments about (the bells).”

Well, aside from a UMF student who “hated (the music) because it woke him up every day who wanted to sleep past noon.”

“I was thinking at the time, ‘There’s worse ways to wake up,'” Woodward said. “I didn’t lose any sleep over it.”

At the end of my conversation with Woodward, I mentioned I spotted “Liebestraum” on the song sheet.

“Could you play it?” I asked, trying not to sound like I was begging.


“Sure,” Woodward said. “Give me a day and time.”

It was much easier than I had anticipated, although it felt no less high stakes to ask that he fulfill the request.

So on a bitterly cold Thursday in January, I stood on Academy Street street awaiting the noontime performance.

The clock struck noon and the bells began to play a tune to which I have listened over and over in recent months.

Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I got emotional listening to the song.

It is not always been easy, moving from my lifelong New York to a town in rural Maine. But during those five minutes, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.

The bells can be best heard in downtown Farmington. On a quiet day, they can be heard down past Sandy River or near the Farmington fairgrounds.

I am sad to report that in the months that followed, I, too, began taking the bells for granted. But anytime “Liebestraum” rings again through the town, I am reminded of the importance of presence, mindfulness and tradition. And I sit for those five minutes, basking in the music.

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