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Orchestral Chimes

posted Jan 4, 2015, 5:44 PM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jan 4, 2015, 5:45 PM ]
Also known as tubular bells, orchestral chimes are musical instruments in the mallet percussion family. Each bell is a brass tube about 1½ inches in diameter, tuned by altering its length. They’re played by striking them on the top edge with either a wooden, rawhide or plastic-headed hammer. But they’re perhaps the most awkward percussion instrument to play. They’re bulky, rather tall, and like all keyboard percussion instruments, you need to visually locate the correct note to accurately strike. That makes it almost impossible to read music, watch a conductor or fellow players AND play the right notes all at the same time!

Originally bronze, they first appeared in England in an 1886 performance of a cantata by Sir Arthur Sullivan, who was better known for his fourteen operatic collaborations with W.S. Gilbert.

There are many recordings of chimes and organ together, and they’re almost all Christmas recordings. The remarkably mellow sound is soothing and calming, making classics like O Holy Night or Away in a Manger gently beautiful. We rented a set to have them here for all the Christmas liturgies, especially Midnight Mass when they were played a lot.

English musician and composer Mike Oldfield is best known for his 1973 album Tubular Bells – which not only launched Virgin Records, it became a mega-hit after its opening was used as the theme for the film The Exorcist. He is also known for his rendition of the Christmas song In Dulci Jubilo.

Pink Floyd used orchestral chimes on The Dark Side of the Moon on the song "Brain Damage" but they’re rendered almost inaudible on the original stereo and quadraphonic mix. The band's drummer, Nick Mason pointed out that he had forgotten that they were even on there until he heard them in the surround mix for the 2003 30th anniversary edition of the album, which has also been released on DVD.

In the 1980’s, the "funding for this program provided by ..." rider that followed the ending credits of Sesame Street also prominently featured orchestral chimes.