In times of trouble, music can calm the most shattered of nerves.

Glenda Watt is doing her part, playing the carillon at the Highland Arts Theatre, with the sound of the bells ringing throughout downtown Sydney.

It was a few years ago that a video posted on Facebook of the Sydney native playing “Angels We Have Heard on High” on the bells at the former St. Andrew’s United Church in downtown Sydney went viral.

These days, with people concerned about the spread of COVID-19, on sunny days, Watt has climbed into the rafters at the theatre to perform on the bells, playing a number of local favourite tunes, such as “Lord of the Dance.”

It was HAT box office director Ali MacDougall who suggested Watt may want to use this time to perform on the carillon.

Watt has regularly performed on the bells for shows and special events over the years.

“I do it sometimes for fun,” Watt said. “I try to get up there now with the state of emergency and everybody kind of locked in. Just to bring a little joy.”

On days when she does drop by the theatre, she can usually be heard playing the bells between 2-3 p.m. The repertoire at this time of year generally consists of Cape Breton classics, from productions such as the Rise and Follies, Rankin Family music, and old gospel tunes.

Performing the bells is a physically demanding feat, for which Watt is well-prepared as a personal trainer, with a studio on nearby Charlotte Street. Her business has been disrupted by the need to socially distance during the pandemic, so Watt said she is keeping in contact with clients and supporting them via social media tools and ensuring they remain connected and are not isolated.

Hearing the ringing of the bells is another way to help people feel connected to a sense of community while they’re socially distancing.

“It’s so important,” Watt said.

Watt said she is continuing to get positive feedback from people who enjoy the bells. She said she tries to perform on sunny days so that people who work downtown can go outside for a short walk to enjoy the music or sit in their cars so they can maintain their distance from others.

She noted she was even approached by one woman as she went into the theatre one day.

“She said, ‘Are you the one who plays the bells, I saw you driving by,’” Watt said. “I came in from Marion Bridge just to hear them.’ I thought that was nice.”

It is a challenging task given the age and state of repair of the bells at the decommissioned Bentinck Street church, which is now a popular theatre venue.

Watt’s older brother George first took up playing the chimes at the church when their father worked there, and she also began playing them at about age 14. Watt didn’t play for church services as her brother had, instead she played them for fun. When the church was being decommissioned, she was asked if she could play at the final service.


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