For Whom the Bells Toll

Heavy Metal Rings Out at Stone Mountain


Put this on the list of sentences you never thought you’d hear, let alone understand:

“It’s good air for bells today.”

Quick “Jeopardy” answer/question:  “The heaviest of all musical instruments, this mechanism is typically housed in a bell tower of a church or other municipal building.”

“What is a carillon, Alex.”

Not many people, I suppose, know what a carillon is.  If you frequent Stone Mountain Park, you are probably well positioned to win that round of Jeopardy.  Set lakeside on a peninsula just east of the Stone Mountain Inn, the 660-bell Park Carillon was manufactured for the 1964 New York World’s Fair; it came to Stone Mountain in 1974 as a gift from the Coca-Cola Company.

It plays Monday through Saturday at Noon and 4 pm; Sunday concerts are at 1 pm, 3 pm and 5 pm.  While the concerts are electronic during the week, on Saturday and Sunday the concerts are live, courtesy of carillonneur Mable Sharp.  She’s played every live concert since 1974.

So why my sudden fascination with carillons?  Stumbled onto it, really.  My Bride and I paddle Stone Mountain Lake frequently, and we’ve always enjoyed the music, when our visits happen to coincide with the concert schedule.  On a recent Sunday, we were on the lake at 1:00 pm, just in time to use the music as a homing beacon for the carillon itself.  It’s a decent kayak ride from the boat ramp at the south end of the lake up to the peninsula. 

Imagine our surprise when, just as we crossed the point, the carillon broke out with “Row, Row, Row Your Boat!”  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  From behind the glassed-in walls of the nearby pavilion stepped Mabel Sharp herself. 

“Are you playing that?” I asked.

“Yes, I am.”  Mabel Sharp is a modest lady.

“Well, we came out here today specifically to hear the concert.”

“It’s good air for bells today.  The tones stay low; when it’s hot they seem to rise away.”

“It sounds great from out here.”

“What’s your favorite song?”

I looked at My Bride.  “Clair de Lune, by Debussy.”  She always comes up with the best ideas.

“Clair de Lune!” I called up to Ms. Sharp.

She disappeared, but within a paddle stroke or two the carillon was pealing the lilting strains of Debussy’s work.  A magical moment, with the sun on the water, the wind a little brisk, good air for bells and a paddle in my hand.

I think I can honestly say that Sunday’s kayaking trip was one that can’t be duplicated anywhere else in the world.  Period.

Throw in a chance “ship-to-shore” communication, and you’ve also got a cherished memory.

“I’ll take “Massive Musical Instruments” for $1,000, Alex…”

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