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City hall’s chimes could sound once again

A group of musicians are working to restore the chimes, with the city considering creating policy for original music to be played.

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An up close view of the chimes.

Photo via City of Asheville

If you wandered downtown the week of May 20, you may have heard a brief but once-familiar sound of chimes coming from Asheville City Hall.

Musician Michael Luchtan has a wealth of experience in restoring and maintaining historical instruments. About 10-12 years ago, Luchtan first inquired about restoring the city hall chimes so artists could play original compositions. And after some recent experimentation and help from pianists Andrew Fletcher and Jamar Woods, it seems his vision could soon become a reality.

A brief history

Made by instrument manufacturing company J.C. Deagan, the chimes are historically known as the Peace Chimes.

A group of county mothers in an auxiliary group of the American Legion pushed for the chimes to be installed as a memorial to their sons who died during WWI. In 1927, a community fundraiser began with donation boxes at city and county schools — ultimately, it collected $5,000, enough to buy the 10-chime set. Then, in 1932, the chimes were installed atop Asheville City Hall.

The chimes played until the 1960s, when the old BB&T building instead began playing recorded sounds of chimes, which continued through the 1980s. Soon after that, there was an effort to restore the chimes, which came to fruition in the late 1990s.

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Andrew Fletcher and Michael Luchtan study the musical paper roll.

Photo via City of Asheville

Revitalizing the chimes

The chimes can be played in two ways. The first is manually on a keyboard housed in what Luchtan describes as an “unromantic mechanical closet” on the fifth floor. The second is through a player mechanism — metal arms trace along a roll of paper with perforations, causing an electrical charge that makes the chime ring.

Luchtan worked with Fletcher and Woods to create a new roll, along with the help of mylar, Photoshop, and fabric fusion tape. “And then I just used an X-acto knife to carve out my composition to make those little holes. I just loved that physical act of writing the music,” Luchtan said.

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Michael Luchtan and Jamar Woods assess the keyboard.

Photo via City of Asheville

Luchtan notes that composing for chimes is a unique undertaking. “Remember that those are bells and that they don’t sing necessarily, even though people can describe them that way,” he says. Speaking to his experience playing the carillon at Eastern Tennessee State Univerisity, Luchtan says that playing with time is what can bolster the emotional element of the composition. He has an idea for a composition titled, “While There’s War, We Ring For Peace,” hearkening back to the chimes’ original purpose as a memorial.

What’s next

Right now, the chimes aren’t able to operate on a schedule and can only be played manually on the keyboard. The city is considering creating a policy for the chimes to be regularly operational, which would need to be approved by City Council.

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