“Phew! That’s quite a workout.”
Jeff Gonyeau was a bit winded. He had just banged out back-to-back psalms by hand on the vintage bell chimes in a windswept perch high up in the bell tower of All Saints Church.
The seven-minute performance was an act of physical — as well as musical— prowess. It’s typically a two-person job working the levers of the chimes— a contraption that’s about as big as a queen-size bed-stand. Each of the 11 wooden levers is attached to a cable connected to one of the massive bronze bells that hang in an upstairs chamber, hidden from our view.
In the corner, there’s an electrical box that used to power an automated system that rang the bells. It was pre-programmed to ring out on the quarter-hour, but it hasn’t worked in years. Even if it did, this was one of those occasions that cried out for the familiar touch of a human’s hand.
2:50 p.m. This was the first anniversary of the day, the hour, the minute when the clocks stopped in the Ashmont-Adams neighborhood. It was the moment when a young neighbor was stolen from us in a manner unspeakable, in an act so vile …
Martin Richard and his family undoubtedly heard Jeff’s handiwork before – even if they weren’t always aware of it. The sound from the 11 bells that ring from this tower four stories above Peabody Square reverberate for blocks beyond the western slope of Carruth Street and down the trolley tracks into Cedar Grove. They break through the cacophony of screeching brakes on the trolley-turn-around and the hum of modern Dorchester Avenue a half-block away.
On this day, Jeff chose two psalms from a trusted songbook: “St. Columba”, which is derived from the well-known 25th Psalm— “The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want.”
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill, with thee, dear Lord, beside me; thy rod and staff my comfort still,
thy cross before to guide me.
The church’s impressive array of bells are in good condition, but there are only 11— too few to play all of the notes that Jeff needed for “St. Columba.” So he improvised. He transposed the notes onto his own scrap of paper and composed a version that could be played on the available instruments.
After a brief pause, he launched into “Land of Rest”, a hymn that is often sung at memorial services.
On this day, Jeff was accompanied by the whistle of a relentless wind and the patter of a driving rain. On the street corner below, a lone woman peered up from underneath her umbrella at the clock in Peabody Square, the same clock that Jeff and other neighbors had turned into a makeshift memorial last year. They stopped the clock and set it to 2:49 p.m.  It stayed at that time for a week until Jeff – in a muted, solemn ceremony – nudged the pendulum back into motion.
This week, it was adorned with a yellow and blue bunting – another Jeff Gonyeau touch – along with a sign promoting the foundation set up in Martin’s memory: Team MR8.
The rain was falling hard now and the woman’s umbrella was no match for the wind funneling down through Peabody Square. She moved on with her day as Jeff punched out the final notes from “Land of Rest.”
Thy saints are crowned with glory great
they see God face to face
they triumph still, they still rejoice
in that most happy place.
There David stands with harp in hand
as master of the choir
ten thousand times would one be blest
who might this music hear.
Jerusalem, my happy home,
when shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end?
Thy joys when shall I see?