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Church's Plan For Inauguration: 3 Hours Of Bells

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Church's Plan For Inauguration: 3 Hours Of Bells

Church's Plan For Inauguration: 3 Hours Of Bells

Church's Plan For Inauguration: 3 Hours Of Bells

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/99561300/99561269" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Tony Furnivall is one of the master bellringers at Trinity Church in Manhattan. Robert Smith/NPR hide caption

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Robert Smith/NPR

Tony Furnivall is one of the master bellringers at Trinity Church in Manhattan.

Robert Smith/NPR

Twelve ringers will sound the bells at New York's Trinity Church for three hours in celebration of Barack Obama's inauguration. It's called a "full peal." Such an extensive and lengthy bell ringing performance is unusual in the U.S. Trinity is one of the oldest churches in the country.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

When Barack Obama is sworn in tomorrow, bells will ring out from churches across the country. Possibly the most ambitious performance will be at Trinity Church, at the end of Wall Street in Manhattan. Ringers there will attempt a full peal. That's 12 ringers pulling on 12 bells in a precise combination that lasts three and a half hours. One of the master ringers takes us to the top of Trinity Church for a demonstration.

Mr. TONY FURNIVALL (Tower Secretary, Trinity Wall Street): There's 99 steps up, and they just keep going and going and going and going and going. I'm Tony Furnivall, and I'm the tower secretary here at Trinity Wall Street. On Tuesday, when Barack Obama is inaugurated as president of the United States, we are planning on ringing a peal of bells.

(Soundbite of peal of bells practice)

Unidentified Man #1: We are putting the four up.

Unidentified woman: He's taking up the four.

Unidentified Man #2: Four goes up.

Mr. FURNIVALL: What I do is just swing the bell.

(Soundbite of a ringing bell)

Mr. FURNIVALL: In each swing, it goes a little bit higher. And then you can hear the other side of the bell ringing, and it will gradually slow down. And as you can see, when my hands reach the bottom, it's about a second before the bell actually sounds. Though - you may hear church bells all the time, but nine times out of 10, you're probably just hearing one bell. What you're going to hear is 12 bells ringing, and they're ringing in a very, very different way.

(Soundbite of bells ringing)

Mr. FURNIVALL: And you can just ring bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom. That's very exciting for about four seconds. We can swap every other pair of bells - bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom - and each pair of bells has just swapped position, and now we have a different change. A peal is a big deal for ringers, and it consists of at least 5,000 changes.

(Soundbite of bells ringing)

Mr. FURNIVALL: After ringing for three and a half hours, you feel exhausted. If you're ringing a peal and you succeed in getting the peal, you feel exhilarated. It's always exiting to be able to do it for any president. That's how we like to express our joy at a new beginning. That's why people have bells for weddings. Fifty percent of weddings end in divorce; 50 percent of presidencies end up in disillusionment. But the beginning is always a good thing, and that's what we're celebrating.

NORRIS: Tony Furnivall is one of 12 bell ringers at Trinity Church in Manhattan. Tomorrow, they will ring for three and a half hours to mark the inauguration of a new president. Our story was produced by NPR's Robert Smith.

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