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Carillon Profile: St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Cohasset, MA

May 24, 2023
Carillon keyboard
The carillon keyboard, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church (photo credit: Scott R. Hummel)

The Cohasset Carillon at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church has shared its historical charm and magical bell sounds with the seaside town of Cohasset, Massachusetts, for nearly a century. The 57-bell, concert-pitch carillon currently boasts the most bells of any carillon in the New England area, with a G bourdon weighing in at 11,280 pounds. Past carillon players include Kamiel Lefévere, Edward “Ned” Gammons, Katherine Stevens [Mrs. E. L. Stevens], George Faxon, Earl Chamberlain, Sally Slade Warner, and Mary J. Kennedy. In addition to being well-known among many of the town’s residents who grow up hearing the bells and visiting the tower, the Cohasset carillon is well-regarded among carillonists for its smooth keyboard action and its “playability.”

Local philanthropist Jane W. W. Bancroft was the original impetus behind the Cohasset carillon. In honor of her late mother (a former St. Stephen’s congregant, Mrs. Jessie M. Barron), Jane donated the set of 23 Gillett & Johnston carillon bells installed in 1924 that formed the carillon. Later, Jane Bancroft continued to expand the instrument by ordering more bells from Gillett & Johnston: an extra 20 bells in 1925 and another eight in 1928. By 1928, the Cohasset carillon’s 51 bells gave it a larger range than many other carillons of the time.

Prominent carillon enthusiast and author William Gorham Rice penned an essay for Cohasset’s 1925 carillon concert program booklet in which he referred to Cohasset as the most beautiful carillon tower in the United States, writing that “through all years to come, [the Cohasset carillon’s] music not only will awaken truest community spirit, but will ever recall a daughter’s loving devotion to her mother’s memory.”

Inspired by Jef Denyn’s popular carillon concerts in Mechelen, Belgium, Jane Bancroft and her husband Hugh provided support for prominent players from around the world to travel to Cohasset and give summer carillon recitals on their impressive new instrument. In the 1920s and 1930s, these summer recitals drew celebrities such as then-President Calvin Coolidge and crowds numbering in the thousands. Reportedly, extra trains from Boston and the surrounding area were required to accommodate the eager concertgoers. Jane’s forward-thinking daughters, Jessie Bancroft Cox and Jane Bancroft Cook, continued their mother’s legacy of advocating for the Cohasset carillon by endowing the summer recital series. This support ensured that the series continued through economic downturns and up to the present; Cohasset’s summer carillon recital series remains the longest running in North America. The carillon’s multigenerational support from the Bancroft family, particularly the Bancroft women, is immortalized through inscriptions of their names on several bells.

In 1989 and 1990, the Cohasset carillon underwent a substantial renovation and expansion project by the John Taylor Bell Foundry, Loughborough, England. Along with the addition of six new Taylor bells, which expanded the carillon’s range to 57, several dozen of the original Gillett & Johnston treble bells were removed, replaced with Taylor bells, and dispersed around the country. Ten of these Gillett & Johnston bells now ring out over Ann Arbor, Michigan, as part of the Kerrytown Chime.

In addition to the summer concert series, the Cohasset carillon is played regularly on Sundays by its current carillonneur John Whiteside and by local guest carillonists. St. Stephen’s Church is the 2023 Guild of Carillonneurs in North America congress host, and the June program will highlight the achievements and music of one of the Cohasset carillon’s most influential carillonneurs, Sally Slade Warner.

—Simone Browne

Independent carillonist

New York, New York

For additional information about the Bancroft women and their impact on the Cohasset Carillon, see “Jane W. W. Bancroft, Jessie Bancroft Cox & Jane Bancroft Cook,” A Century of Women and the Carillon, www.CarillonWomen.org.

Carillon website: ststephenscohasset.org/The-Carillon

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