by Terry Rogers
On July 4, the sound of the carillon at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Milford will ring with patriotic music. John Huntzinger, an elder and historian at the church, explained that this was something he did as a young man at his church in northern New Jersey.
“I started doing this in about 7th grade,” Huntzinger said. “We had a carillon with about nine real bells. After retiring from the Air Force and moving full time to the Milford area in 2013, I became a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Milford. I learned that they had an electronic carillon and remembered playing bells/carillon on special occasions to include the 4th of July and got permission to play their carillon on the 4th of July several years ago. One reason I wanted to do this was because there were no other 4th of July events in or near Milford. I recall watching the fireworks display at Slaughter Beach where my parents lived, and I missed that.”
Huntzinger explained that Milford native, Harvey Gillespie, have played the patriotic carillon music for several years. This year, Gillespie will be handling the bell ringing on his own as Huntzinger will be out of town visiting family.
The First Presbyterian Church is on its third electronic carillon, Huntzinger explained. The first was dedicated in 1963 in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel C. Evans, Jr., who were both active in the church and its music programs.
“The first carillon was state-of-the-art for its day,” Huntzinger said. “It used paper tape for music and tuning forks to generate the music which was then amplified. The second electronic carillon was also state-of-the-art for its day and had unique, large cassettes which held the music. Harvey faithfully changed them for the seasons for many years. That electronic carillon gave up the ghost late in 2017 and was replaced on Easter Sunday 2018 by a modern, solid-state electronic carillon in which all music is internally stored on a hard drive. The speakers for the carillon are located in the Church spire and are quite large but not as loud as one might think.”
Anyone interested in enjoying the patriotic carillon concert can bring chairs to areas around the church. Huntzinger suggested that the best place to hear the bells is within a block or two of the Church.
“Good listening spots are in parking lots at the rear of the Church on Pearl Alley, near Lifecycle,” Huntzinger said. “Also the Milford Public Library, the City of Milford Customer Service Center on South Walnut Street and in front of the Church on South Walnut Street.”
There will not be any food or beverage services, but residents are encouraged to bring picnic lunches to enjoy as they listen to the bells. Huntzinger also asked that those enjoying the music practice social distancing in order to keep everyone safe.